Unloading a truckload of reefer regs

THE refrigerated trucking industry will be carrying a little heavier load in coming years — and we don't mean ice cream or produce.

A series of regulations, some already in effect and others scheduled for implementation soon, go right to the heart of human needs — the air we breathe and the food we eat. They are demanding, and will impact manufacturers who supply refrigerated fleets, the companies who use refrigerated fleets, and the fleets themselves.

The most immediate concern is the latest round of emissions regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Tier 4 Final Rule standards, much like the truck engine emission rules that most recently went into effect on 2010 model trucks, dramatically slash allowable levels of Nox by approximately 37% and particulate matter by more than 90%. But instead of addressing truck engines, these regulations target equipment such as truck refrigeration units and auxiliary power units (APUs). The new rules take effect on New Year's Day.

Fortunately for fleets, North America's leading transport refrigeration unit manufacturers have developed new equipment that will meet the more stringent emission regulations. Even better news, the equipment will be able to meet or exceed what's required without the use of SCR or diesel particulate filters. And even better news, manufacturers say, is that they are achieving all of this while simultaneously improving fuel economy. About the only thing they couldn't figure out was how to develop new technology without having to charge for it.

Truck engine manufacturers dealt with a series of increasingly tighter emission regulations before implementing a new system to meet the 2010 regulations. And like truck engine manufacturers, the manufacturers of refrigeration units have been able to meet standards by making incremental changes in their products. Until now.

In rolling out its new Precedent refrigeration unit platform in early August, Thermo King president Ray Pittard called the program the largest investment in Thermo King history. The six-year, $60-million effort has resulted in a completely new line of truck and trailer products and a new assembly line at the TK plant in Puerto Rico.

Over at Carrier Transicold, the story is similar. The company addressed the issue and its forthcoming solutions at this year's Mid-America Trucking Show in March and provided further details in June, including the EcoFORWARD name for its new units. Carrier refrigeration units also will run cleaner and burn less fuel. The addition of sensors and electronic control modules enable the company to reduce engine power by 18-20% with a 5-20% decrease in fuel consumption.

Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency is not the only entity regulating emissions for these products. There is still CARB (California Air Resources Board) — the agency that sets rules that anyone operating in the state must meet.

Trailer dealers who sell refrigerated trailers will need to know where new refrigeration units can be operated — and for how long. Some of the new EPA-compliant refrigeration units that will be sold next year will also meet CARB specifications for as long as the unit lasts. Others will not. CARB will deem some new units fit to operate in their state only for six years or less. Like buying a gallon of milk, refrigerated fleets that operate in California and are shopping for a refrigeration unit definitely should check the expiration date.

But the mother of all reefer regs may turn out to be the Food Safety Modernization Act. Far broader in scope than refrigerated transportation, the law takes aim at the 48 million cases of food poisoning reported each year. The law provides the FDA with “new enforcement and inspection authorities.” Food producers are the primary focus.

How vast will these the new enforcement and inspection authorities be? One gauge may be to look at how many new people will be joining the FDA field staff over the next few years. The law mandates (not suggests) that at least 4,000 staff members be hired in fiscal year 2011; 4,200 more are to join this year; an additional 4,600 in fiscal year 2013; and 5,000 more in fiscal year 2014.

To what extent the Food Safety Modernization Act will affect refrigerated fleets (and the companies that sell to them) remains to be seen. Only a fraction of those regulations have surfaced as of yet. The first batch of rules were aimed at preventing unsafe foods from entering commerce. Another addressed food importation. But since refrigerated fleets play such a vital role in getting food to the table, it's a safe bet that trucks and trailers will fit in there somewhere.

If you sell to refrigerated fleets these days, stay close to your Federal Register.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting trailer-bodybuilders.com and clicking on “Contact Us.”

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