How Refrigerated Transport Innovation Is Accelerating Decarbonization of Cities

As vehicle manufacturers work toward electrification, it is often overlooked that transport refrigeration technologies also harbor tremendous capability to decarbonize our European cities. Electrification solutions are already reducing the carbon emissions of the vans and lorries that transport our food, medicines, vaccines, and other critical cargo. Leading innovators in this space are on a mission to deliver emission-free refrigerated transport in the future.

Francesco Incalza is president of Thermo King Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Trane Technologies  responsible for the strategy, operations, and performance of the Thermo King transport refrigeration business throughout EMEA and the global marine, rail and air businesses.  Lorries, buses, and coaches are responsible for about a quarter of CO2 emissions from road transport in the EU and for some 6% of total EU emissions. There has been a big focus on making electric personal vehicles available and affordable to reduce reliance on fossil fuel. In fact, the European Parliament has already voted for a ban of the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035 and will work with member states towards this goal.

Yet, one overlooked fact is that cargo transportation, including by refrigerated vans and lorries, is increasing across the region. According to Eurostat - there were 3.9 million goods vehicles registered in the EU in 2020. Among the EU member states, Poland had the largest stock of goods vehicles in 2020, with 18.3 % of the EU fleet and Germany had the second largest fleet, with 14.3 %.

Many of these heavy vehicles are temperature-controlled refrigerated vehicles and comprise what is known as "the cold chain" - essential to the European economy, transporting critical goods such as  fresh and frozen food, and life-saving medicines and vaccines. Yet those (refrigerated) vehicles not yet on the transition to electrification, are some of the heaviest contributors to emissions in the region. Innovation to decarbonize the cold chain is, however advancing rapidly and the industry is moving the needle on reducing carbon emissions.

In fact, sustainable innovation for refrigerated transport is moving at a more accelerated pace than electric vehicles. Transforming automobile factories to produce electric vehicles takes huge investments and time. In contrast, low carbon refrigerated transport technology already exists for vehicles powered by virtually any fuel source.

Traditionally refrigeration units run off the vehicle's engine. Even when attached to an electric vehicle, these refrigerated units typically rely on a separate diesel/petrol generator to power them and keep refrigerated cargo from spoiling. Today, technology exists to completely avoid these emissions, and the industry is ready for the transition to fully electric cargo transportation on European roads.

In Germany, Mercedes-Benz, in cooperation with Thermo King, has developed the eSprinter Pharma, the first fully electric Mercedes van for pharmaceutical products. The combination of the E-200, a connection to the vehicle's on-board electrical system and the lithium-ion battery ensures a manually adjustable, constant temperature including when the driver stops to deliver goods. Even after the door has been opened the control system ensures that the temperature is quickly lowered again.

As more and more people are moving to urban areas, deliveries of refrigerated food will increasingly be occurring in urban and densely populated areas. Electrified refrigeration units are significantly quieter than non-electrified units, resulting in a significant reduction in noise pollution and meaning deliveries can occur day or night with little disruption. The electrification of refrigerated vehicles also offers more consistent regulation of temperature, meaning there is less food wasted from source-to-store.

Food loss contributes to about 10 percent of annual global carbon emissions today. Thermo King is helping to lead the way and has committed £100 million to deliver a fully electric product in every segment of the cold chain by 2023 in EMEA. Thermo King's all-electric portfolio evolve(TM), will include electric refrigeration solutions for truck, trailer, rail, air, and marine transport.

This also supports the company's 2030 Sustainability Commitments, including its Gigaton Challenge to reduce customer emissions by one billion metric tons. Government and industry led collaboration will be necessary to accelerate adoption of these innovations and pave a route for the full electrification of refrigerated transport vehicles. As we move toward the UNFCC target of net zero carbon emissions globally by 2050, electrification of lorries and delivery vans will contribute greatly to that goal.

About Trane Technologies
Trane Technologies is a global climate innovator. Through our strategic brands Trane(R) and Thermo King(R), and our portfolio of environmentally responsible products and services, we bring efficient and sustainable climate solutions to buildings, homes and transportation. For more on Trane Technologies, visit

About Thermo King Thermo King - by Trane Technologies (NYSE: TT), a global climate innovator - is a worldwide leader in sustainable transport temperature control solutions. Thermo King has been providing transport temperature control solutions for a variety of applications, including trailers, truck bodies, buses, air, shipboard containers, and railway cars since 1938.

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