The Future of Reefer Trucks & Trailers: 2020 & Beyond

July 24, 2019
Posted by: Suppose U Drive

According to a report published by MarketsandMarkets, the global refrigerated transport market is projected to grow from $14.64 billion in 2018 to $19.29 billion in 2023, that’s an incredible increase of 31.8%, almost $1 billion per year on average for the next five years. With the reefer market booming, it’s not surprising that many companies have invested these huge amounts into reefer research. Research Including cooling materials, cold retention, fuel efficiency, and new technologies and methods to keep cargo cool.

The Intelligent Refrigerated Truck

Reefer trucks and trailers consume huge amounts of fuel. Which has been inevitable because of how traditional refrigeration cycles work. The heart of the system, the compressor, requires a lot of power to compress the vapor. Since this component can’t be replaced (yet) new technologies and innovative approaches have emerged to dramatically reduce its power draw, as well as its duty cycle.

Image courtesy of Thermo King

All-Electric Refrigeration Units

Over the past decade, reefer solution providers have refined all-electric refrigeration technology and increased the number of all-electric options available to the market. This is a trend that will continue in the foreseeable future. As its name implies, all-electric units don’t use a diesel engine to drive the compressor, they use a battery-based system instead. All-electric refrigeration units have two operation modes “on-road” and “standby”. A generator and/or inverter charge the battery pack during the on-road mode, while energy from the power grid does it during standby mode.

Since fully sealed electric compressors use fewer moving parts they are lighter and more efficient than traditional reciprocating compressors. The addition of electro-mechanical expansion valves, simplified wiring, accurate temperature sensors, and sophisticated control modules allows better temperature control, higher reliability, and fewer maintenance costs than traditional systems. A good example of all-electric technology is the Thermo King B-100, a small truck refrigeration unit ideally suited for medical supplies applications.

Image courtesy of Carrier

Hybrid Refrigeration Units

While all-electric reefer units have a great future the same is true for their hybrid counterparts. Hybrid reefer units combine ultra-efficient diesel engines with electric compressors, the best of both worlds. As previously explained, electric compressors are far more efficient, lighter and have fewer moving parts thus they contribute to lower overall cost of ownership. A great advantage of hybrid reefer units is their flexibility. There is a global trend to reduce diesel emissions, including those coming from refrigeration units. Hybrid reefer units have the advantage of having a very small environmental footprint meaning they are already prepared for any future eco regulations. Another benefit of refrigeration trucks using a hybrid reefer is the ability to operate in “dual-mode” and even in battery-only mode when needed. Examples of top-notch hybrid reefer technology can be found in Carrier’s Vector Hybrid and Thermo King SLXi Hybrid product lines.


Reefer Management Systems

Enhancing the overall efficiency of the refrigeration system is also possible using advanced hardware/software solutions. A two-way monitoring and controlling system can lower refrigeration unit fuel consumption by using temperature sensors, GPS, logging devices, telematics, and specialized software (such as ORBCOMM PT-6000). This kind of device enables fuel and temperature management (locally and remotely), maintenance control, logistics, and more. Next-generation reefer management systems are capable of controlling every aspect of the system such as setting reefer temperature, initiate defrost, controlling the compressor state, setting alarms when specific conditions are met, and more. Additionally, reefer management systems can integrate with existing fleet management software for even more visibility of refrigerated trucks parameters.

Image courtesy of

Phase Change Materials

Technology advances in Phase Change Materials (PCM) create new possibilities for the reefer trucks design. Phase Change Materials applications, such as eutectic plates, are based on a simple principle. During the night cooling is accumulated in the eutectic plates using external electric refrigeration units or even truck’s reefer unit when in standby mode. During the day, the eutectic plates can maintain the cargo temperature for extended periods of time without the need of using the truck main refrigeration unit. As you can imagine, there are endless applications for this technology. Traditional air-blown refrigeration systems produce high carbon emissions, elevated levels of noise, and have high maintenance costs, on the other hand, future refrigerated trucks assisted with eutectic plates in their body could switch off refrigeration units while driving in urban areas and that way cancel sound and reduce emission and fuel consumption to zero.

There is already a booming industry of eutectic plates around the world, a few examples are Thermal Master, FIC, and COLDWAY.


The Future of Reefer Trucks and Trailers

The refrigerated transport industry is currently in the middle of a technological revolution as more and more advanced devices and control systems are integrated into trucks and trailers. Examples of such advances include the smart reefer truck which is connected to the cloud and can be managed remotely. We are excited to see these new applications as they are adopted by more fleet owners across the country.

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