Keeping Food Chilled – by Solar Power

The Sustainable Energy Research Group has led a programme to develop what is believed to be the world’s first solar powered refrigeration unit installed on a working articulated vehicle for Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd.

Fig. 1 - Sainsbury truck with solar powered refrigeration.

Fig. 1 – Sainsbury truck with solar powered refrigeration.

Power for the refrigeration unit is generated by photovoltaic panels mounted on the trailer’s roof. An on-board battery stores the excess power for use by the refrigeration system during the hours of darkness. At present, most chilling equipment is powered by diesel generators. These have high energy demands and maintenance costs, as well as environmental impacts both in terms of emissions, which contribute to the greenhouse effect, and noise levels.

The team demonstrated that, by improving the trailer’s insulation and evaporator design, the solar-powered refrigeration unit used considerably less energy than a standard diesel-driven unit. It enables the trailer to keep operating throughout the year. This work has led to several awards for the group including:

  • Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) Automobile Division – Engineering Applied to Agriculture, 1997
  • World Renewable Energy Congress V – Best Scientific Paper, 1998
  • Finalist UK transport and logistics awards, 1998

Aspects of this work have been published in:

Bahaj A.S., James P.A.B. (2002) Economics of solar powered refrigeration transport applications. Proceedings of the 29th IEEE PV Specialists Conference, New Orleans, USA, 21-24 May 2002, pp 1561-1564. View paper
Bahaj A.S. (2000) Photovoltaic power for refrigeration of transported perishable goods. Proceedings 28th IEEE PV Specialists Conference, Anchorage, 17-22 September 2000, pp 1563-1566. View paper