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Cooler and greener refrigerated trucks

A new leak-detection system optimises cooling efficiency in refrigerated trucks. This takes a load off engines, saving fuel and reducing greenhouse gases.
Cooler and greener refrigerated trucks
Europe's haulage industry is struggling. Fuel constitutes 30 % of operating costs, and its price has risen 42 % in the last four years – double the rate of inflation. With increasing taxation and emissions regulation as well, average profit margins have declined from over 3.5 % in 2003 to between 0 and 2 % today. The situation is worse for those operating refrigerated trucks, which consume additional fuel. The industry urgently needs new cost-reducing technologies targeted at refrigerated trucks.

To help with this, the EU funded the 'Mobile refrigeration system refrigerant leakage monitoring' (LEAKDETECT) project. The eight-partner project ran to 2011, with a goal to develop a refrigerant leak-detection system. The technology depends on a network of surface acoustic wave (SAW) sensors. These economical devices are particularly effective at detecting physical change — in this case, coolant leaks. Detecting them allows the refrigerant charge to be maintained at the optimum performance level, reducing the compressor's workload and saving costs.

Without the SAW sensors, even well maintained systems would leak refrigerant, reducing compressor performance. The LEAKDETECT system would mean a performance increase equivalent to a 5 % reduction in fuel consumption.

The project's first phase saw technical work involving selection and testing of the sensor materials, plus prototype SAW design. A second phase involved building, developing, integration and testing of the SAW sensors. The technology was due for legal protection in 2012; however, it had not been exploited at the project's conclusion.

LEAKDETECT's system should result in fuel savings for refrigerated trucks, which would translate to a better profit margin for European small businesses. The reduced fuel consumption will also mean less engine exhaust and lowered carbon dioxide emissions.

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