The Austrian technology startup company pbx has tested its “fully digitalized” ecos M24 propane (R290)-based refrigeration units in light commercial electric vehicles (EVs), showing for the “first” time that “absolute zero CO2 emissions for transport refrigeration is both technically and economically feasible,” said Dominik Radler, Chief Technology Officer for pbx.
The study focused on Achleitner Biohof, a supplier of organic foodstuffs located in Eferding, Austria, which has operated light commercial EVs equipped with the ecos M24 units.
Radler presented its findings at the November 2022 ATMOsphere (ATMO) Europe Summit in Brussels. ATMO Europe was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of hydrocarbons21.com.
Vehicles using the ecos M24 refrigeration unit are CO2e emissions free “when the vehicle is charged by a source that is [CO2e emissions] free as well,” said Radler. “In the case of Achleitner, when its vehicles are charged directly via photovoltaics, this value is zero – emission[s] free – as well.”
Along with “successfully” introducing R290 refrigerant for mobile applications, the Achleitner Biohof vans are the “first fleet of refrigerated light commercial vehicle[s] with zero CO2 emissions in [transport refrigeration] operation,” said Radler.
The Achleitner Biohof case study began in May 2022 and involved equipping five OPEL eVIVARO 75kWh vans with the ecos M24 R290 refrigeration units powered by the van’s traction battery. After the mobile refrigeration conversion, each van had a 350kg (772lbs) payload capacity with approximately 6m3 (212ft3) volume and a 250km (155mi) practical driving range.
The average consumption of the R290 refrigeration system in Achleitner Biohof vehicles was found to be 2.12kWh per route. This resulted in a loss of only 5.8% of the range of the vehicle “because of the energy consumption of the refrigeration system,” which runs on the same battery that powers the vehicle, said Radler. The performance data came from 387 hours of running time by Achleitner Biohof at a maximum ambient temperature of 36.8°C (98.2°F) and an average route length of 178km (110.6mi).
How the vehicle is used – the number of stops per route, the number of times and for how long the doors are opened – affects the amount of battery power used for the refrigeration unit, explained Radler, adding that in general that lies somewhere between 5–7% of the total traction battery of electric delivery vans.
The study also found frequent vehicle door openings on routes resulted in violations of the temperature setpoint (slightly above 6°C/42.8°F), said Radler, with box temperatures dropping below pbx’s 80% temperature setpoint acceptance to 78.2%. Longer routes provided more efficiency with reduced compressor speeds, keeping box temperatures at the setpoint.
At the time of the ATMO Europe summit, Radler said Achleitner Biohof had five electric delivery vans equipped with ecos M24 mobile refrigeration units with four more units ordered. The company was looking to change out up to 24 vehicles total and said it would like a “little bit” bigger electric van with more than 200km (124mi) of realistic range in a YouTube video.
Achleitner Biohof’s path to zero emissions has led it to using fully renewable energy, including a photovoltaic system located on its premises, food storage in CO2 cold rooms, and circular reuse of production to limit food waste. Electrifying the entire vehicle fleet is its next step.
Designed for an electric fleet
The ecos M24 transport refrigeration system with R290 refrigerant is “especially designed for an electric fleet,” said Radler, adding that the combination of the R290 units with EVs can reduce CO2 fleet emissions by 93% per a year compared to R134A refrigeration systems on light commercial diesel vehicles.
In a separate study, pbx determined that an electric vehicle equipped with its ecos M24 refrigeration unit but served by a power plant with “mixed” CO2e emissions generated 225kg (496lbs) per year in indirect emissions and zero in direct emissions. By comparison, a diesel vehicle equipped with an R134a refrigeration unit generated 3,288kg (7,249lbs) of direct and indirect CO2e emissions per year.
“Our system has the lowest weight in its class,” said Radler, adding it is 50% lighter than the next heaviest system in its performance range, helping to maximize available payload. The increased efficiency comes because of a variable-speed compressor, the use of propane as a refrigerant and its full digitalization, he added.
The digitalization gives fleet owners the “deep insight into the overall energy consumption of the vehicle” to know if a vehicle can complete a given route and get back home before needing to be recharged, Radler said.
Installed on the roof or the front wall of an EV, the ecos M24 is plug-and-play unit. It is suitable for vehicles up to 3.5 metric tons (7,716lbs) and contains up to 140g (0.3lbs) of R290 in a hermetically sealed unit. The ecos M24 units were launched commercially in September 2022 at the IAA Transportation conference, held in Hanover, Germany.
In February 2023, pbx had its first installation of its ecos M24 outside of Europe with the Filipino contractor Cold Front Technologies Asia using it in an insulated truck as part of the Cold Chain Innovation Hub (CCI-Hub) in Taguig City, the Philippines.
“Our system has the lowest weight in its class.”Dominik Radler, Chief Technology Officer for pbx.