A Cleaner Way To Cool Refrigerated Trucks

Sept. 2, 2013 | Northwest Public Radio
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Courtney Flatt


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  • Your produce and frozen foods could soon arrive at grocery stores in trucks that release fewer emissions. Northwest researchers are developing a clean technology to keep your food cool. credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Scania Group
Your produce and frozen foods could soon arrive at grocery stores in trucks that release fewer emissions. Northwest researchers are developing a clean technology to keep your food cool. | credit: Flickr Creative Commons: Scania Group | rollover image for more

RICHLAND, Wash. – Your produce and frozen foods could soon arrive at grocery stores in trucks that release fewer emissions. Northwest researchers are developing a clean technology to keep your food cool.

Engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are working to replace trucks’ diesel-burning cooling system with fuel cells.

These fuel cells mix hydrogen and air to create energy – the byproduct is water. Researcher Kriston Brooks said that means fewer greenhouse gas and particulate emissions than diesel engines.

“From the big picture of how much carbon dioxide we produce and other emissions, it’s pretty small. But it’s a start,” Brooks said.

Brooks said hydrogen fuel cells are twice as efficient as the diesel engines used to cool refrigerated trucks, but they can be expensive. He said researchers are working to make them cheaper for companies to use. (This cooling system, including the fuel cell and cooling container, costs about $40,000.)

But, Brooks said, the price of fuel cells is quickly dropping.

fuel cell price
The price of an automotive fuel cell. National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

He said people also get a little nervous when they hear the words hydrogen and fuel in the same sentence.

“We are working very hard on this project to include the hydrogen safety panel that [the Department of Energy] has set up to make sure that we’re incorporating suggestions that they have so that it can be a safe technology,” Brooks said.

Researchers will test the equipment in the summer by shipping groceries in California, Texas, and New York. The goal over the 400-hours of logged run time is to assess the fuel cell’s durability, as it rumbles down the road.

“We wanted to verify that it would work in various climates in different times of year. Certainly it’s a lot more rigorous on a fuel cell and a (transport refrigeration unit) during the summertime,” Brooks said.

Several grocery facilities in the study already power their forklifts with hydrogen fuel cells. Experiments are also being run in buses and cars, and on grid reliability projects. Researchers are also working on powering luggage transportation carts at airports with fuel cells.

fuell cell numbers
The amount of commercial fuel cells on the market. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

The lab said about 300,000 refrigerated trucks cooled by diesel engines are on the road now, and the fuel cells, which are about the size of a breadbox, will save about 10 gallons of fuel per day.

© 2013 Northwest Public Radio
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