Refrigeration fuelled by nuclear fusion

A company’s bottom line is a stellar way of measuring efficiency – the name of the transport game. JACO DE KLERK discovers how nuclear fusion can make reefers more efficient

Okay, so the heading and intro could be seen as some crafty “clickbait” … but it’s true, nonetheless.

Chris Jones (creator of the website Space Facts – space-facts.com) notes (on his page Sun Facts) that energy is generated from the sun when hydrogen converts to helium. This process takes place at the core of our closest star via nuclear fusion.

In short, millions of tonnes of hydrogen atoms crash together in the extreme temperatures and gravity of the sun, which forces them to break their atomic bonds and fuse to make the heavier element, helium.

“The temperature inside the sun can reach 15-million degrees centigrade. The temperature on the surface is closer to 5 600°C,” Jones points out. He adds that our parent star has already burned off about half of its store of hydrogen, at around 4,6-billion years old. “It has enough left to continue to burn hydrogen for approximately five-billion years,” he says.

It’s no wonder that Georg Weinand, project manager of corporate publishing at Cargobull News (the in-house publication for Schmitz Cargobull, a German manufacturer of semi-trailers, trailers and truck bodies), reports that the sun is a virtually inexhaustible source of energy. He adds that every year our closest star radiates 10 000-times more energy than that required by humanity as a whole.

“A tiny part of this energy is now also used by Schmitz Cargobull for its S.CU transport cooling unit,” Weinand notes. “Transport cooling units must be ready for use at all times. As a result of long idle times, especially during winter, or through additional loads such as a temperature recorder, discharging of the starter battery can occur, which can have serious consequences.”

He adds that if a deep discharging occurs, the battery will be damaged and will need replacing. “With the new S.CU solar panel, such bothersome and costly situations can be avoided. The starter battery of the S.CU transport cooling unit is charged with the help of the solar panel and, as a result, remains operational for a longer period of time.”

The solar panel also doesn’t affect the trailer’s overall height, as it is installed directly onto the cooling unit itself. “Thanks to the tilt angle of the panel, soiling and the accumulation of snow and ice are minimised, which means that its efficiency is not affected – even in winter,” Weinand reports.

“Another advantage is that the solar module can be retrofitted on existing S.CU transport cooling units. Schmitz Cargobull has created a special retrofit kit that customers can order from their Schmitz Cargobull service partner and then have installed,” Weinand adds.

Fusion-fuelled refrigeration would work perfectly in sunny South Africa. Thermo King, a brand of Ingersoll Rand, reports in the news section of its website, in an article titled: Winter is here! Learn why solar is more critical in winter than summer, that solar power is more critical during winter months and in colder climates.

The article states that it’s a common myth that solar panels won’t work during winter months and that modern solar panels are designed to produce power during cold and short winter days. “Even in the most frigid weather, solar panels turn sunlight into electricity, because the panels create energy from the sun’s light – not the sun’s heat,” the article reads. “There are fewer hours of sunshine during the winter, but there are still plenty of hours to tap for a solar charge.”

Cold winter temperatures put a hard strain on the batteries in equipment – such as the tractor, the battery-powered auxiliary power unit (APU), the refrigeration unit and the lift gates.

The news piece emphasises that electronics need more power to perform the same task in cold temperatures. “To make matters worse, batteries don’t provide as much power or charge as efficiently in cold temperatures. To offset this issue, solar is a critical addition to any asset to ensure batteries are fully charged, every day, and that they remain warmer internally.”

Another article on the company’s website – Solar Panels: The ideal solution to save you money and meet your power needs – reports that Thermolite solar panels can help lower operational costs by reducing diesel APU run time by 20 to 30 percent. It states that this can extend battery life to five or more years. “With APUs, solar offsets daytime heat loads, helps maintain peak performance and provides a full battery bank, even in low light conditions,” the article points out.

It goes on to say that solar power also offers a host of benefits for fleets running without APUs. These include reducing jump-starts, expensive road calls and the cost of replacement batteries. “Solar panels can also power diesel-fired heaters, keep tractor batteries healthy and ensure electronics stay powered up, even over the weekend,” the piece reports.

The solar panels offer plug-and-play connectors and are peel and stick – so no holes have to be drilled when these are retrofitted.

The logistics service provider, Martin Brower, with offices in Brampton, Canada, is also impressed with the benefits of solar power. “With the solar panel, we can leave the reefer on cycle-sentry mode all year long, including winter, without the worry of a dead battery,” states fleet and warehouse engineering manager Chris Chua.

“Previously, we’d run in continuous mode, burning fuel for no reason, just to ensure the battery would stay charged. We are also recording fewer engine hours on the reefer, which stretches out the warranty time – it now takes longer to reach the 15 000-hour mark. Both translate to financial savings and reduced emissions.”

Effective cooling units are essential

However, the additional benefits won’t help if the cooling units are ineffective. “GRW assembles a European custom-made box body here in South Africa onto a proven GRW chassis,” explains Stephan Albertyn, sales manager at GRW – a local transport equipment designer, manufacturer and service provider. “By June 2020, we will produce Ferroplast panels at our Cape Town facility to reduce cost and lead times.”

Patented in 1978 by Schmitz Cargobull, ferroplast technology combines the increased insulation properties of NX-17 polyurethane hard foam with durable steel skins. This combination stops water from entering the panels, which means that there is no weight gain over time. “Ferroplast panel technology is the market leader all across Europe,” Albertyn points out.

“GRW’s trailers, tankers and reefers have a global footprint – serving a variety of industries across southern Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom,” says Albertyn. “They are sought-after because our engineers configure the trailers to the unique needs of each client and their country of origin.”

The company invests a lot in its research and development, as well as in its employees. “At GRW, we believe that a high-quality product can only be built by highly skilled individuals,” Albertyn tells FOCUS.

“We invest a considerable amount of time and money in training and developing our people. All welders, for instance, undergo stringent in-house training to achieve coded status before being allowed to work inside the production facility.”

He adds that two aspects on which GRW is not willing to compromise are quality and innovation … and innovation is definitely increasing as refrigeration fuelled by nuclear fusion gains traction.

It will be interesting to see what solar power will do for the South African trailer, tanker and reefers industries when this technology becomes commonplace in the local market.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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