The way we grow our food has a huge impact on the environment, from soil-damaging monocrops to fossil fuel-based fertilizers to water waste, and ultimately food waste. But it's also the way we ship food across the country and world that does damage to the environment.
The distance your food travels from where it is made to where it is eaten–otherwise known as "food miles"–has been steadily increasing over the last fifty years, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Now processed food travels an average of 1,300 miles before hitting your plate, expelling huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. And if the products being transported need to be refrigerated, the damage is even more vast: sometimes the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere from refrigeration alone exceed those produced by transportation.
Challenge Dairy Products is attacking that very issue. The California-based company made up of a cooperative of 400 dairy farmers is using the first-ever solar-powered zero-emissions commercial-use Transport Refrigeration Units (TRUs), which store and refrigerate products on delivery routes.
The trucks are decked out with solar panels on their roofs, using solar tech company eNow's "Rayfrigeration" technology, which utilizes the power of the sun to cool moderate refrigerated items such as dairy and produce during transport. Conventional TRUs are generally powered by small diesel engines that produce ten times as much nitrous oxide emissions as normal heavy-duty vehicles and 20 times as much particulate matter emissions. The solar-powered trucks create almost no emissions: Challenge has been testing the solar-powered TRU since April 2017 and found emission reductions of 98 percent for nitrous oxide, 86 percent for carbon dioxide and 97 percent for particulate matter.
The trucks are outfitted with a Johnson’s truck refrigeration unit equipped with the Rayfrigeration technology, which allows for refrigeration without diesel through two forms of energy storage: cold plates and a lightweight solar-charged battery system developed by Emerson, which is designed to be charged exclusively by solar and utility power.
They are charged from utility power when plugged in overnight, but during the day, the truck's roof-mounted solar panels provide the power, whether the truck is out delivering or is parked at the depot. As a back-up option, the vehicle electrical system is also capable of charging the auxiliary batteries while the vehicle's engine is operating.
“As the first testers of the solar-powered TRU, we are humbled to play a part in a technology that will enable foodservice companies worldwide to have minimal impact on our planet,” said Tom Ditto, Vice President of Foodservice at Challenge Dairy Products, Inc, in a press release. “For more than a century, Challenge has prided itself on delivering the freshest and highest quality products, and through our Rayfrigeration Delivery Service, we can hold true to our values, while keeping our customers happy and protecting our planet.”