Insight: How Volta is adding chill to Zero

Volta is testing a refrigerated version of its electric truck to learn how to electrically power a chiller without badly affecting range

Volta has displayed a refrigerated version of its Zero fully electric 16-tonne truck at the 2022 Commercial Vehicle Show, while reassuring interested operators that a battery vehicle can service the electrical demands of a chiller unit while still retaining a usable range.

The first appearance of the refrigerated Zero at the Birmingham show has coincided with the announcement that leading cold-chain supplier Carrier Transicold will provide refrigerated equipment for use in Zero trucks. Meanwhile, Paneltex has been confirmed as the supplier of non-refrigerated cargo boxes to the Zero.

A prototype version of the Zero fitted with Carrier Transicold’s Iceland eCool system is on display at the CV Show, and is one of 25 vehicles that is being put out into the market so that Volta can gather data on its use and capabilities.

The likely concern among potential refrigerated transport operators of the Zero will be how much battery draw, and therefore decrease in range between charges, will be required to power the chiller unit – speaking to The Truck Expert, Volta’s Duncan Forrester won’t yet provide figures, because he admits they don’t actually know exactly what they are yet – this is what the real-world testing will establish.

“The Zero is designed for inner urban logistics and based on our extensive customer feedback a range of between 95 to 125 miles between charges is more than sufficient for how far a truck employed on inner-city distribution will travel,” Forrester says. “And clearly on a full-electric truck with no tailpipe emissions, you can’t have a generator for the refrigerator unit whirring away on the front of it.”

As a result, Volta has had to ensure that the high-voltage battery pack powering the drive motor can also be employed to chill the refrigerator box. “The equipment supplied by Carrier takes the feed from the high-voltage battery and very cleverly turns that into the chilling that allows us to refrigerate the box,” he adds.

Top-spec model

This very quickly leads to the question of the amount of battery draw, and the current mileage accumulation and testing will allow Volta to understand what the real-world range impact will be. “We will be putting on sale 95 or 125-mile range versions of the vehicle, with the 150 or 225kW battery, and the refrigerated vehicle will only come with the top-spec three battery packs. But compared to passenger cars, for instance, we will have to be very clear that if a customer buys a refrigerated van on the basis of its ability to do 125 miles, it will be able to do that.”

The question is further complicated by the differing requirements of users of such vehicles. “The important part of refrigerated vehicle usage is how often you open the doors – if your work requires this to be every two miles or so, each time taking cool air out and letting hot air in, you will then need to re-chill the box when the doors are shut again and that will have an impact on the range.”

Planning for a switch

Forrester says that factors such as this will require that Volta does a lot more for its customers than merely sell vehicles to them. “We will need to have close discussions with our customers and part of those initial discussions will include a completely free-of-charge ‘Fleet Electrification Plan’.

“This plan analyses the customer’s telemetry data taken from the usage of their existing vehicles, while it also makes a location site assessment of their depot, and then puts together a suitable plan. This might say for example ‘of your fleet of say 200 vehicles, we believe 30 of them are suitable to be converted to electric, and to convert them, you need X number of chargers and they need to be put at these locations.’”

Volta is confident that many inner-city refrigerated transport operators will be able to make the switch to electric and Forrester emphasises that providing capable equipment is not just desirable but crucial to future transport needs.

“Under the environment in the UK then yes, we can operate in those conditions. But in such places as France, where for example in Paris diesel-engined trucks will be banned from the streets at the end of 2023, it’s a case not of whether they want to but that they have got to. So we have to be absolutely certain that we have a product that works for them.”

Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a news editor and columnist across all of our sites – The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new vehicles for more than 20 years.

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