Truck News


The TRUth about new reefer standards

Owners and managers of refrigerated fleets are approaching the EPA Tier 4 emissions deadline for trailer refrigeration unit (TRU) engines with some trepidation. And after what they’ve gone through with the EPA emissions mandates for big...

Owners and managers of refrigerated fleets are approaching the EPA Tier 4 emissions deadline for trailer refrigeration unit (TRU) engines with some trepidation. And after what they’ve gone through with the EPA emissions mandates for big bore engines, who can blame them?

During a recent Driving for Profit seminar, Wendell Erb, president and CEO of Erb Group of Companies, expressed his concern: “I hope that the refrigeration units’ reliability is better than what the trucking units’ has been the last few years,” he said. “Right now, they are generally reliable pieces of equipment attached to the trailers and running a lot of hours. If they are going to start giving us hiccups the way the tractors have, we’re going to have some issues there.”

Addressing a fleet managers’ breakfast at Truck World a couple weeks later, Jerry Moyes, CEO of Swift Transportation, voiced his concern as well, noting California-compliant TRUs could cost $5,000-$10,000 more than today’s designs when the calendar turns to 2013.

“It’s affecting the whole reefer business,” he said, adding reefer sales could be brisk this year as fleets rush to beat the impending standard.

Concerns, however, may be overblown, especially for refrigerated fleets that don’t haul into California. The impending Tier 4 standard, which goes into effect in January 2013, will limit pollutants of off-road engines between 25-50 hp, and yes, TRU engines generally fall within this category.

Both Carrier Transicold and Thermo King have been busy revamping their reefer platforms to comply with the Tier 4 standard in ways that will minimize the impact on customers. Thermo King plans a summer launch of its new platform, and Truck News will report on those developments as they become available.

Carrier Transicold announced its compliance strategy at the Mid-America Trucking Show and in a subsequent interview with Truck News, David Kiefer, director of marketing and product management with Carrier, indicated the company’s revamped reefer line will meet Tier 4 emissions requirements without any of the expensive add-ons and auxiliary equipment that some feared were inevitable. He understands the confusion, however.

“When the two major TRU manufacturers embarked on this, we didn’t know what lay in front of us,” Kiefer admitted. “Customers were asking ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ Conservatively, both companies were saying that to get compliant equipment, you’d have to apply technologies and expenses and even some of these ultra high-efficiency technologies where you would get benefits but they’d certainly be more expensive.”

He’s talking about things like exhaust aftertreament systems; diesel particulate filters, oxidation catalysts and the like, which have been employed by the manufacturers of heavy-duty truck engines. This cautious response from manufacturers led to widespread speculation of substantial cost increases, as was the case with big bore engines when similar technologies were deployed with each new round of EPA emissions standards.

“Truck engines are a little bit different than ours,” Kiefer noted. “We’re in a different horsepower category and the horsepower categories have different emissions requirements.”

The Tier 4 standard for non-road engines with 25-50 hp was announced in 2004, to be phased in between 2008 and 2015. The regulations are not specific to reefer engines; they affect any non-road diesel engine within the affected horsepower range. Reefer engines in the 11-25 hp category were required to comply by 2008 while the 25-50 hp category engines were to be phased in over a two-step process, with Tier 4 interim being rolled out in 2008 and a stricter Tier 4 final rule to come into play in January. Existing equipment is grandfathered, meaning fleets can continue to use their existing TRUs without penalty anywhere other than California (see related story, pg. 70).

“Most trailer refrigeration units sold today fall within this (25-50 hp) horsepower increment, therefore currently comply with the Tier 4i (interim) standard,” Kiefer explained.

Getting to the more stringent Tier 4 final rule presented some challenges. But rather than resorting to costly aftertreatment systems that would allow reefer engines to continue operating as they do today, and then trap and eliminate pollutants downstream, Carrier Transicold has elected to redesign its engine line from the ground up, to improve efficiency to the extent that the engines no longer require the full 25 hp.

“Our equipment has always straddled that 25-hp line,” Kiefer said. “We’ve had units that had a peak horsepower requirement of 24 hp and we had some that were 26 hp.”

Carrier engineers went back to the drawing board, and have found ways of improving the efficiency of their refrigeration units so that the peak power required by the engine will not exceed 25 hp under any circumstances, essentially absolving it from the burden of the new Tier 4 requirements and avoiding the substantial cost increases associated with exhaust aftertreatment equipment. (The engines will easily comply with the Tier 4 standard for 11-25 hp engines).

In fact, Kiefer said the efficiency improvements offered in Carrier’s next-generation line of reefer engines will actually improve performance and lower operating costs, something that wasn’t exactly the case when truck engine makers were faced with EPA mandates in 2002 and 2007. In the end, Kiefer says Carrier was able to reduce the horsepower requirement by its 2.2-litre Kubota engine by up to 20%, depending on model and application.

“As you can imagine, when you take up to 20% horsepower requirement out of the engine, not only did it move all our designs below the 25-hp line, but it moved us well below the line,” he told Truck News. “Now we’re in a situation where our peak horsepower is somewhere between 20 and 22 hp, depending on the model, and that’s peak. When you look at TRUs, they don’t run at peak very much, it’s only a single digit percentage that they run at peak.”

As a bonus to fleets, the lower horsepower requirement also means there could be some maintenance savings.

“From that point of view, it’s great for our customers,” Kiefer said. “Now we have a unit that’s compliant, but it actually has better performance, more capacity, faster pulldown, that type of thing, and it also uses 5-20% less fuel depending on the operating conditions. It varies by model. Some are quieter and some of them are lighter and some of them use 24% less refrigerant.”

One reefer, Kiefer noted, runs 400 rpm slower than the previous version, yet provides greater cooling capacity while using less fuel. Carrier also promises reliability hasn’t been compromised.

“What we like about it is, it’s high-tech but it’s also low-risk and there are no additional maintenance requirements,” Kiefer said. “In fact, you can almost argue maintenance requirements will go down. If you think about the drive belt, imagine if you had that same drive belt as you have today but you’re putting 20% less power through it. What do you think would happen to the longevity of that drive belt? If anything, you’d expect it to last longer because it’s not working as hard.”

So, how exactly did Carrier Transicold manage to find double-digit efficiency gains in its refrigeration units?

Kiefer explained that for the most part, Carrier was able to take existing technologies employed across its various models and then combine them and optimize them to work together to provide more comprehensive benefits.

“There are a lot of different technologies that exist in different units that we know are high-efficiency technologies. We brought them all together and incorporated all of them into the same platform,” he explained. “You can put something in that’s more efficient just for the sake of it being more efficient but at the end of the day, you get the best gains if you put in a litany of efficient components and get them all to work together.”

Key to the redesign is a new, soon-to-be-released APX control system with CAN Bus communications capabilities, so it can ‘talk’ with all the various components within the refrigeration unit system and respond accordingly. This allows it to better manage power demands and always operate in the most efficient manner possible.

In the end, it appears as though refrigerated truck fleets may have dodged a bullet with the Tier 4 standard. Sure, refrigeration units are expected to be moderately more expensive than they are today, but the good news is there are inherent performance benefits that should make any price increase easier to stomach.

That’s good news for fleets, and so is this: “Currently, the way the law is written, there is nothing beyond Tier 4,” said Kiefer. “This is the last emissions change our engines have to go through.”

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