The Magazine for LCV Fleet Operators
Marshall Renewables is to launch combined solar and kinetic energy-powered LCV refrigeration units for electric vans. Strategy director Michael Kane talks to Dan Gilkes. Solar cooling

Cambridge-based Marshall Fleet Solutions is no stranger to the temperature-controlled transport business. The company has been a major dealer for leading refrigeration supplier Thermo King since 1972. With more than 200 mobile engineers on the UK’s roads, providing service and installation, as much as 80% of Marshall’s daily business is temperature-controlled transport.

Unsurprisingly, the share of light commercial vehicle work has increased rapidly over the last few years, as home and last-mile delivery continue to expand. Traditionally Marshall’s UK market for temperature-controlled LCVs up to 7.5-tonnes was around 6-8,000 vehicles a year. That has now risen to 8-10,000 vans and light trucks.

“The LCV market has completely exploded, last-mile delivery has become absolutely key,” said Michael Kane, strategy director at Marshall Fleet Solutions.

“We manage over 5,000 vehicles for one supermarket and normally they would make 800,000 deliveries per week, rising to around 1.2m deliveries in Christmas week. But recently, every day has been Christmas day, with over 1m deliveries a week.”

Seismic shift

Volume is not the only driving force in this rapidly changing sector. Not only has the focus moved to lighter commercial vehicles, but customers are looking towards an electric vehicle future.

“Electrification is a seismic shift,” said Kane. “However, although it has to happen very quickly, it is still at least two buying cycles away, so people are not rushing.”

While vehicle manufacturers are struggling to build enough electric vans and chassis to meet this rapidly growing demand, with technology rapidly moving forwards, attention is also moving onto the bodybuilding and conversion process. Range anxiety remains a big concern for many operators and, in the majority of cases, running a refrigeration unit on the traction battery is not going to be a realistic solution.

“Refrigeration is a high-power consumption unit, but EVs are all about range,” said Kane.

“However, the low-emission zones are going to increase and EVs will have to work with fridge systems. We are understanding of the issues and can deliver a solution.”

Of course, as a Thermo King distributor, Marshall has been able to utilise the latest systems from the fridge unit provider. This includes the B-100 electric reefer unit for smaller vans and the E-200 fully electric refrigeration unit. This lithium-ion powered fridge solution is offered with 1.8kWh and 3.6kWh batteries and is suitable for medium to large vans and smaller trucks.

Roof-mounted panels

However, you still need to find the power to keep the battery charged. Marshall has joined forces with a solar panel solutions provider called RIS, to create Marshall Renewables. Together, the two companies are working on a new solution, that will take power from roof-mounted solar panels and from the electric vehicle’s brake force regeneration system.

“We are able to offer refrigeration to EV customers without affecting driving range, as Marshalls, and not just Thermo King,” said Kane.

The MFS solar kinetic capture system, combined with a 2. 5kWh battery stored under the passenger seat, adds just 30kg to the unladen weight of the van, maintaining payload for the customer. It is capable of powering a triple-compartment vehicle body – with ambient, cooled and frozen sections –  through a day’s shift without external input.

“With MFS Solar Kinetic we use solar and regeneration as a top-up facility. It is all about battery optimisation,” said Kane.

“We have had a vehicle running in a non-solar powered environment and it has not used any vehicle power since September.”

That system has been trialled on a supermarket delivery van working in the north of Scotland. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was diesel-powered, but with the drive to the traditional V-200 refrigeration unit removed from the engine crankshaft and instead powered by the battery-electric system. Even operating through the darker winter months, the system has maintained temperatures within the delivery vehicle, with no ability to draw on the vehicle’s power system.

“The van is plugged in at the distribution depot and we have the ability for timed or remote starting before the morning shift,” said Kane. “We can precondition the body before driving and then it is ready to be loaded at the depot, even if the vehicle isn’t always connected.”

Though testing currently on a Sprinter chassis, the system is suitable for any large van. It can also be retro-fit onto existing vehicles, if they are equipped with the V-200 refrigeration unit. The real benefit however will be in pairing the technology with the E-200 full electric refrigeration system and an electrically-powered van or light truck.

He is candid enough to admit that the full electric system will carry a substantial premium over an engine-powered refrigeration unit. However, as with the vehicles themselves, van operators are finding other ways to justify the additional cost of EV use. Running into low-emission and clean air zones without daily charges will be one of the most convincing arguments.

“Not everybody will electrify tomorrow. They have the time to introduce small numbers of vans each year to trial the technology,” said Kane.

With Marshall Renewables’ MFS Solar Kinetic EV refrigeration system, that technology is now commercially available.