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Coca-Cola launches first electric refrigerated truck fleet

By year’s end, 16 new Smith Electric trucks will deliver chilled Odwalla products around the Bay Area. Using electric chillers, the fuel-free fleet is a first and could stoke more interest among cold chain players.

While they make up a tiny slice of the automotive market, U.S. sales of plug-in electric vehicles are hot: up 147 percent between August 2012 and August 2013. But at an EV industry event Monday in San Francisco, the big news from Coca-Cola was cold. The beverage company announced it is launching a fleet of 16 refrigerated electric trucks, which will be used to transport Odwalla beverages around the Bay Area.

The trucks, manufactured by Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, will be deployed by year’s end and will mark the first fully electric refrigerated truck fleet in the country, said Sonya Soutus, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president of public affairs.

The beverage company already operates a number of alternative fuel fleets in North America, including more than 650 hydrid trucks as well as vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. But the electric chillers displace the conventional diesel-powered transport refrigeration units (TRUs) which create a significant source of air pollution in transport hubs. The California Air Resources Board is working to better control these through graduated performance standards through 2019.

TRUs are “like a lawnmower running on top of your truck,” said Jim Neu, fleet manager for Coca-Cola’s Odwalla Market Unit.

Neu said the Smith trucks employ eutectic cold plate technology, which chills the air using a series of aluminum beams that circulate a refrigerant. The chiller is powered by a electric system that operates independently of the electric motor and batteries used to power the truck.

Electric-powered truck refrigeration is not new; it’s a 50-year-old technology, said Smith Electric CEO Bryan Hansen. But improvements to cold plate technology have made it much more compelling to fleet managers in recent years. The chiller system is powered overnight, while the truck’s batteries are recharging.
“Then, then you use the cold plate system as your source of refrigeration inside the truck all day, and you only need to run fans to keep the cool air circulating,” said Hansen. “You don’t need to add batteries to the truck, which saves weight and keeps costs down.”



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