Virtually all temperature-controlled operators are now facing massive cost increases after the treasury’s controversial initiative to withdraw the rebate on red diesel and claw back funds from an already over-stretched transport sector came into play in April.

Graham Usher, managing director of hydraulic refrigeration and electric generator manufacturer Hultsteins, offers some advice and suggests a tried-and-tested solution to literally bypass the existing fridge engine and, during transit, virtually dispense with fridge diesel altogether…

I’m sure all temp-controlled operators are well aware that since April 1, the government’s mandate states all TRUs must be emptied of red diesel and refuelled with white. I’m not so sure, however, that every operator has calculated how much this change in the law will cost – or how to avoid the problem in the first place.

Hultsteins is a Swedish and British hydraulic refrigeration systems manufacturer which has been designing and producing hydraulic and electric-drive transport refrigeration systems for operators throughout Northern Europe for over five decades. I’m pleased to say that in recent times, this simple, robust and cost-saving technology has at last arrived on our shores.

Clean alternative

Hultsteins focuses on two key product groups: hydraulic drive fridge units, called EcoFridge, which use an engine PTO-driven hydraulic pump to harness the energy from the rigid truck engine to drive the fridge; and Ecogen, an electric generator, which I am recommending here.

Ecogen does not replace the existing diesel refrigeration system, but instead works in tandem with the fridge trailer unit to generate a constant 400V – even at idle speed.

This power literally transforms the diesel unit into a hybrid solution which uses the unit’s built-in electric motor to drive the fridge during transit.

A very small amount of diesel will be required from the tractor unit to power the generator; but even so, you will cut diesel consumption to the fridge unit by more than
90 per cent. 

  • Assume 8 hrs fridge operation per day, per week = 56 hrs 
  • Assume fridge uses 3 litres per hour = 168 litres per week
  • 168 litres per week x (for example) £1.10 per litre = £184 p/w 
  • £184 x 50 weeks per annum = £9200
  • Less extra diesel used in main/truck engine to power Ecogen generator £800 
  • Net cost saving using Ecogen per year = £8400
  • Pay back in under 2 years – sooner if running high fridge hours or using a lot of diesel

Looking after the environment

Ecogen users not only benefit greatly from much-reduced fuel consumption, but also can make significant contributions towards reducing the environmental impact of every diesel-powered fridge unit in their fleet. Carbon is slashed, NOx can be reduced by up to 95 per cent, particulate emissions are massively reduced and, of course, without the diesel engine running during transit, there is a reduction in noise. 

Furthermore, the maintenance requirement of the diesel fridge unit will be much reduced and its life greatly extended.

Based on the same assumptions as above, let’s take a look at these typical values regarding the
potential reduction in environmental damage:

  • Carbon saved per year, per diesel fridge unit powered by Ecogen = approx 20 tonnes
  • Assuming 8400 litres of diesel normally used, based on 3 litres p/h
  • (Less 800 litres extra required for tractor to run Ecogen) = 7600 litres saved per year
  • Each litre of diesel burned = 2.65 kg of carbon exhausted into the atmosphere
  • Therefore, carbon saved per Ecogen per year = approx 20 tonnes

Before the ban, red diesel attracted duty at 11.14p per litre. When increased to the current white diesel level of 57.95p per litre, assuming a typical consumption of only two litres per hour, the running cost over a typical annual rate of 2000 hours will increase by £1872 for each diesel fridge unit.

But you can get it sorted. If you operate Scania, Volvo or Renault trucks, an Ecogen system can be quickly and easily retrofitted. Or, you can take steps to retrofit a PTO and remember to specify your next tractor with a PTO already factory fitted.

Operators’ opinions

Mick Pethard, Gist engineering manager, said: “The hybrid-drive system harnesses kinetic energy from the truck and recycles it into electrical energy for the transport refrigeration unit. Taking power via the rear of the engine into this equipment – which converts it into electricity to power the fridge on electric rather than red diesel – means no CO2 is being created by the fridge.”

George McLaughlan, managing director, McLaughlan Transport, said: “We ordered the new units with a factory-fitted PTO so the Ecogen system could be put to work straight away. We are the first in Scotland to benefit from Hultsteins’ onboard generators, and with the price of diesel set to rocket in April and carbon emissions now high on the environmental list of concerns, it seems like the best thing to do.”

In conclusion, we at Hultsteins believe if ever the time was right to convert from ’dirty diesel’ refrigeration, it is now.

Ecogen brings an affordable, simple, reliable and sustainable solution to the diesel price hike coming our way, while at the same time ticking a box for the planet, like no diesel-powered fridge could ever do.

For more on Ecogen or EcoFridge, call Graham Usher on 07930 377934 or visit