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Zero-emission refrigeration for transporting ice creams comes a step closer


We’re running a pilot in the Netherlands to test battery-powered refrigeration in trucks. If successful, it could provide a new solution for lowering the environmental impact of our refrigerated products, including ice cream brands such as Magnum, Wall’s and Cornetto.

Truck trailer with battery-powered refrigeration.

Diesel engines have long been the default solution to power the cooling systems in refrigerated trucks. While the emissions from the trucks themselves are regulated and have shown improvement over the past few decades, transport refrigeration is currently unregulated and therefore dirtier.

The good news is we've started a nine-month pilot in the Netherlands to test a breakthrough innovation in temperature-controlled transport, replacing the diesel refrigeration in four trailers with zero-emission battery-electric prototypes.

The system - which keeps freight chilled at temperatures down to -25°C - will be tested to run entirely on renewable electricity. If successful, the technology could help us lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our 'cold chain': the transportation and refrigeration of our products.

If successful, it could save up to 25 tonnes of CO2 per trailer annually, with air quality benefits for each vehicle equivalent to taking 70 passenger cars off the road for a year.

Our partners in the pilot are equipment service provider TIP Trailer Services, green tech experts Maxwell and Spark, and transport company Daily Logistics Group (DLG).

"With logistics and distribution accounting for around 15% of our emissions, we are moving our cold chain to cleaner sources of energy," explains Michelle Grose, our Head of Logistics and Fulfilment. "We are partnering with innovators to pioneer new technology and find new solutions. This journey of co-creation will provide us with valuable learnings and insights to help us lower emissions from our vehicle fleet."

Truck trailer showing partner logos as well as the words “Ice cold without the CO2” and “100% Electric” in large letters.
"We are partnering with innovators to pioneer new technology and find new solutions. This journey of co-creation will provide us with valuable learnings and insights to help us lower emissions from our vehicle fleet." - Michelle Grose, Unilever’s Head of Logistics and Fulfilment

Part of our goal to achieving net zero by 2039

This latest trial is one of several measures we’re exploring to reduce emissions in our logistics network as we work towards our goals of halving the emissions footprint of our products by 2030 and net zero across our value chain by 2039.

Logistics and distribution covers transport from suppliers to factories, factories to distribution centres (DCs) and DCs to customers.

We achieved our 2020 target of 40% improvement in CO2 efficiency of our global logistics network (against a 2010 baseline) one year ahead of schedule. This was primarily driven by reducing distance travelled and improving truck utilisation, reducing the total number of trucks used.

While there is more opportunity in this space, we now need to accelerate the transition to zero-emissions transport solutions, shifting our focus to ‘greening’ the kilometres we still need to drive.

This is something we’ll be addressing in several ways including the additional use of railways to reduce demand for long-distance trucking and direct-to-consumer despatch from our factories to shorten the distance our products need to travel.

We’re also exploring hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles, as well as lower carbon transition fuels such as bio-liquified natural gas and HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil) fuel which are made from renewable, sustainable raw materials.

“The transport industry will be going through rapid change in the next decade as businesses gear up towards net zero ambitions,” says Mark Rickhoff, Head of Logistics for Unilever Benelux. “This means building new relationships with new types of partners, including equipment providers, OEMs and governments, to advance cleaner transport solutions. There is no silver bullet to achieve zero emissions, the industry needs to work to get there together along many different pathways.”

In line with our Carbon Zero Logistics Strategy, we are continuously striving for further emission reduction across all our operations as we work towards net zero by 2039. There are no easy answers for lowering emissions in the cold chain, but we are determined to take forward steps.

“Over the past few years, we evaluated and tested various solutions but realised that what we required was not on the market,” adds Mark. “That's why we partnered with others to develop the technology and the set-up we need. I'm proud that Unilever is rising to the challenge and excited to see where this trial takes us in the future.”

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