Electric Transport Refrigeration Units Offer a Cleaner, Quieter and Cheaper Way to Store Perishable Goods

The electrification of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in North Carolina is gaining momentum, and for good reason — they can have dramatic impacts on air quality and operational costs for fleets. According to the NC Department of Environmental Quality, medium- and heavy-duty gas and diesel vehicles make up just 3.2% of our state’s registered vehicles but produce 26% of on-road nitrogen oxide emissions and 32% of particulate matter.

School and transit buses have the most electric deployments in North Carolina, but here we’d like to highlight another, lesser-known, electrification opportunity in this space, one that can be deployed today across a variety of industries.

Transport refrigeration units (TRUs) are mobile refrigeration systems that supply precise temperature control for perishable goods during transport and storage. TRUs have traditionally been powered by a diesel internal combustion engine (ICE), but many industries are making the switch to electric transport refrigeration units (eTRUs) for their environmental, efficiency and maintenance benefits.

eTRUs use electricity to operate the unit when it’s not in motion, and they come in two common configurations, both with plug-in capability: hybrid-electric and electric standby. Hybrid-electric versions pair an integral diesel ICE with an electric generator. This engine-generator set powers the refrigeration compressor. Electric standby versions employ a diesel ICE and a distinct electric motor.


Emissions: Operating on electricity means no on-site emissions when parked and plugged in, providing cleaner and healthier air for the surrounding environment. Many businesses underestimate time spent idling and its environmental and financial impacts.

Ongoing Savings: Electric motors and electric/diesel hybrid equipment require less maintenance than diesel engines. In addition, electricity prices are cheaper and more stable than diesel fuel. Therefore, eTRUs cost less to run and maintain.

Quiet Operation: When connected to the grid, eTRUs are significantly quieter than their ICE counterparts thanks to their electric motors and components. This benefit can be especially valuable if operating overnight near residential areas.


Upfront Cost: eTRUs tend to cost more upfront than diesel-powered TRUs, but lower operating costs can help make up the difference.

Infrastructure Needs: Electric infrastructure must be developed at idling and other non-transit locations, like truck stops, warehouses, intermodal stations or ports, and points of sale. Fortunately, electric utilities are building out this infrastructure to support industries’ transition to eTRUs.

Use Cases and Applications

As with traditional TRUs, eTRUs support a variety of use cases, including temperature or humidity control during precooling, loading, unloading, staging and long-term storage of goods; refrigerated trucking and cold storage; and moving and transporting goods. They are being deployed in both long- and short-haul applications and can be used in the same industries served by TRUs:

  • Food manufacturing and distribution
  • Pharmaceutical and cosmetics manufacturing and distribution
  • Plant, flower and animal transport
  • Delicate furniture or equipment transport

If you’re considering replacing an existing TRU, it’s worth including eTRUs in your evaluation.