Sustainable Ecosystem Model Involves Multiple Partners

Foodservice distribution firm PFG fuels its future with a template for going green.

An aerial view of Performance Food Group’s Gilroy, California, center shows Volvo electric VNR trucks and FreeWire Technologies’ ultrafast charging stations during an open house event on Earth Day, April 22. (Volvo)

Rooftop solar panels will soon power about 90% of PFG’s Gilroy, California, operations, the starting point for cold food deliveries. The vehicles getting the various edibles and food-related products from the warehouse to restaurants, schools, hotels and other customers include new battery-electric Class 8 trucks that mate to trailers fitted with zero-emission transport refrigeration units (TRUs).

FreeWire Technologies ultrafast charging stations’ energy requirements are nearly 10 times lower than traditional charging stations, reducing peak energy demand and grid strain while providing more efficient power. Image shows Performance Food Group’s Gilroy, California, site. (FreeWire)

“Our Gilroy, California, location is the pilot for how we intend to develop sustainable distribution centers,” said Jeff Williamson, senior vice president of operations for Richmond, Virginia-headquartered Performance Food Group (PFG). Williamson and others were recently interviewed by SAE Media following an Earth Day open house at the Gilroy site.

Schematic shows an electric truck and trailer fitted with Advanced Energy Machines’ electric transport refrigeration unit, SolarTechTRU. (AEM.GREEN)

With more than 150 locations, PFG is one of North America’s largest food and foodservice distribution companies. PFG’s transition to a greener future accelerated with assistance from GridMarket, an automated, artificial intelligence (AI)-driven distributed energy project optimization platform that helps companies streamline the many facets of change.

“This is about PFG going from consuming grid power, which has a higher emissions factor, and consuming diesel fuel with its truck fleet to electrifying its fleet of trucks, trailers, yard tractors and forklifts. It’s also about producing renewable electricity to support the electrified tools,” Peter Schneider, director of business development and project management for New York City-based GridMarket, said about PFG’s Gilroy site.

Growing a ‘green’ fleet

A Volvo VNR all-electric Class 8 truck gets charged from a FreeWire Technologies ultrafast charging station at Performance Food Group’s Gilroy, California, distribution center. (FreeWire)

Built in 2019, the 189,000-square foot Gilroy distribution center turned greener with this year’s addition of a 1.58-megawatt DC rooftop solar array and a 500-kW battery back-up energy storage system. The alterations kickstart the center’s eco-slant, where on a 24-hour daily basis hundreds of supplier products are vendor-delivered to one of 28 loading bays, and a fleet of PFG trucks transport those goods to various Northern California destinations.

Vouchers from California’s Hybrid and Zero Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Program (HVIP) were used to purchase Volvo VNR Electric trucks. (Volvo)

“For our vendors, it’s up to them if they have ‘green’ vehicles. But we’re doing outbound deliveries with a fleet of 50 trucks, which now includes six electric Volvo trucks with a seventh electric truck on order,” Williamson said. “We’re in the early stages of replacing our diesel-fueled trucks.” Last year, PFG began a pilot program with an International eMV Series battery-electric truck and its 22-foot Great Dane body cooled by a Carrier Transicold’s Supra eCool refrigeration unit.

According to Brett Pope, director of eMobility for Volvo Trucks North America, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, the commercial-vehicle industry’s transition to electric trucks from diesel trucks is straightforward in its simplicity. “We only changed what was necessary. So, in place of a diesel engine and the exhaust system, we have an electric powertrain,” Pope said.

The Class 8 Volvo VNR Electric trucks that recently joined PFG’s Gilroy fleet use a propulsion system centered around two electric motors and a two-speed transmission. “The electric motors put out the equivalent of 455 hp and 4,051 lb-ft of torque, which essentially matches the 450 hp of the Volvo D13 direct-injection diesel engine, so drivers of the electric VNR truck feel similar power levels with a little more torque than the diesel engine produces,” Pope said.

Volvo’s truck uses Li-ion NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) batteries for energy storage. The electric truck has six battery packs for approximately 575 kWh of storage and a driving range up to 275 miles (443 km).

‘Different’ ultrafast chargers

Performance Food Group’s Gilroy, California, distribution center recently took delivery of several all-electric Volvo VNR heavy-duty trucks. (Volvo)

Volvo’s electric trucks are charged via 15 ultrafast charging stations from FreeWire Technologies. Each charging unit has two charging ports. The Li-ion NMC battery-integrated charging stations – with multiple patents addressing system design, power electronics, battery management and software – were installed and fully deployed within four months after groundbreaking.

“PFG was given a timeline of three years from the utility company, PG&E, to get enough power to the site to deploy ultrafast charging. For a lot of fleets, that’s simply a deal-killer because they can’t wait three years,” said Arcady Sosinov, founder and CEO of FreeWire Technologies with global headquarters in Newark, California.

FreeWire’s ultrafast chargers operate differently than other mass-produced ultrafast chargers. “When the charger connects to the power grid, it uses only a low amount of power – which already existed on the site – to charge up the internal battery,” Sosinov said.

Approximately 20 kW comes into the charging unit from the grid, but the charging station’s output is 200 kW. That 180-kW difference is pushed out by the charging unit’s internal battery. According to Sosinov, a fully depleted Volvo electric truck’s recharge time takes between four and six hours. “That’s fast for a Class 8 truck,” he said.

Electric refrigeration

The Volvo electric trucks are matched with a reefer trailer equipped with a zero-emission SolarTechTRU from Mesa, Arizona-based Advanced Energy Machines (AEM.GREEN). A traditional TRU is diesel-powered versus AEM’s patented, all-electric, 46-volt DC unit. Located in the same front-of-trailer location as a diesel-fueled TRU counterpart, the electric TRU has a conventional condenser, evaporator, compressor and electric motor.

“The battery resides underneath at mid-trailer,” said Robert Koelsch, co-founder and CEO of AEM.GREEN. AEM’s standard Li-ion battery pack is 109 kWh. Charging for the battery is via AEM’s patented charging pads that the trailer’s landing gear rest atop.

“We use AI to automate the entire charging process, so no human is plugging and unplugging cords,” Koelsch said. For a completely depleted battery pack, the charging process takes about eight hours. To date, the Gilroy site has 30 of AEM’s electric TRUs. Each of those electric refrigeration units is estimated to eliminate approximately 20 tons of CO2 emissions per year versus a diesel-powered TRU.

Transitioning PFG’s Gilroy site to a sustainable distribution center requires assists from multiple companies, stressed Volvo’s Pope. “As a traditional truck manufacturer, we’re really good at the truck part – that’s not a problem. But once you go from traditional drivelines into alternative energy or battery-electric, you have to involve a lot more players,” he said. “It takes partnerships to create a sustainable ecosystem.”