UNFI Deploys Emerging Transportation Tech to Lower Emissions

All-electric trailers designed to be better for environment
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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UNFI Deploys Emerging Transportation Tech to Lower Emissions Transport Refrigerated Trailer Units
UNFI is adding 53 all-electric transport refrigerated trailer units to its fleet at the company’s Riverside, California, distribution center.

United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) is adding 53 all-electric transport refrigerated trailer units (TRUs) to its fleet at the company’s Riverside, California, distribution center. The effort aligns with UNFI’s Better for All 2030 Environmental, Social and Governance agenda, encompassing commitments to take action on global social and environmental issues. UNFI is one of the first wholesalers to employ the technology, and its move comes after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) revealed plans this past January to impose zero-emission requirements on TRUs sold or operated in the state by Dec. 31, 2029.

The all-electric TRUs achieve zero-emission results through a high-efficiency refrigeration system powered by roof-mounted solar photovoltaic panels, a wheel-momentum generator, lithium-ion batteries, and an auxiliary power unit to eliminate the requirement for diesel fuel to operate the refrigeration system. Through this process, the refrigeration system provides multi-zone temperature settings, with the ability to maintain a full load of frozen product from -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the distribution route.

UNFI is removing 53 of its diesel-powered TRUs from operation and using Mesa, Arizona-based Advanced Energy Machines to rebuild the units to all-electric specifications. The wholesaler will lease the TRUs through Newark, New Jersey-based PLM Trailer Leasing for five years while continuing to explore how they fit into its operations. UNFI anticipates that the all-electric units will save about 135,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually while lowering particulate-matter pollutant emissions and greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Nearly 50% of UNFI’s direct greenhouse-gas emissions are from our fleet of trucks and trailers,” noted Jeff Wismans, UNFI’s national director of fleet operations. “These 53 all-electric TRUs will help us get a head start on the proposed CARB zero-emission requirements, and are expected to allow us to decrease our emissions as we make progress on our climate action commitments under Better For All. Adding these TRUs comes after an exhaustive four-month pilot-testing the equipment through a variety of conditions, with the intention to replace diesel-powered TRUs. When we look at it from an operational standpoint, we’re not changing anything, but it gives us a fresh look at running our operations and finding additional efficiencies.”

To help defray the cost of retrofitting the diesel-powered TRUs, PLM obtained vouchers on UNFI’s behalf through CARB’s Clean Off Road Equipment (CORE) Voucher Incentive Project. CARB introduced CORE in 2017 to ramp up the purchase of zero-emission freight-handling equipment in California by offering a streamlined voucher process to offset the higher cost of these technologies. 

Providence, R.I.-based UNFI delivers a wide variety of products to customer locations throughout North America, including natural product superstores, independent retailers, conventional supermarket chains, e-commerce retailers and foodservice customers. The largest publicly traded grocery distributor in America, the company is No. 61 on The PG 100.

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