From refrigeration to automation: Ingersoll Rand’s vision for a sustainable future
Diversification is the force that has propelled US manufacturer Ingersoll Rand from the early days of the industrial age to the 21st century. The company once held the patent for a rock drill credited with replacing the pick axe and revolutionising the mining industry — but in recent years it has been broadly concerned with creating sustainable environments. In practice, this means devising operational-level strategies for reducing energy use at home, in the workplace and in-transit.
Ingersoll Rand works to create efficiency behind-the-scenes, helping businesses and consumers to save money while controlling their surroundings. The company’s family of brands includes Thermo King, a transport temperature control system manufacturer, and Trane, a supplier of air conditioning systems. As technologies like the ‘Internet of Things’ continue to move into our built environments, Ingersoll Rand has acknowledged that its existing expertise could give it an edge in innovation.
“We’ve been inside industries, improving the efficiency of processes inside those industries,” says Scott Tew Executive Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand. “We have been in the commercial and the home-building space as long as any company. With that you gain a certain amount of unique knowledge on how buildings perform, and how they should perform.”
With the advent of ‘smart’ technologies, buildings can virtually monitor their own operations. Ingersoll Rand’s range of systems allow owners and occupants to manage their environments based upon information provided to them by the structures themselves.
“Our entrance into the Internet of Things were developments to connect mechanical systems and automate them,” Tew says. The company’s goal is to take “human behaviour, and sometimes misbehavior” out of the equation.
“The more a person knows about how something is working, the more options they have for managing it,” Tew explains.
Nexia, a home automation system, is one of the products Ingersoll Rand offers to help consumers understand how their homes use resources. It works by connecting devices — from HVAC systems to appliances to lighting — to a central hub. The ‘Nexia Bridge’ then transmits information about the home’s performance to its owner’s chosen device, be it a tablet, mobile phone or computer.
“I think optimisation, whether we’re talking about a commercial building or a home, happens when we connect all of these various systems together and gain some insights,” says Tew. “I’m a huge believer in continuing to search for the data that gives you the right insight.”
Making homes more efficient doesn’t just result in savings for consumers — reducing energy use also benefits the environment. Ingersoll Rand is currently the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles, with production of its off-road recreational ‘Club Car’ outdoing all other EV producers by production volume. In this spirit, the company has also sought to make alterations to their larger-scale transport ventures.
Large freight trucks waste a lot of time and fuel idling while being loaded or unloaded. At the same time, fuel-dependent temperature control systems are also working to keep perishable commodities cool. Engineers at Ingersoll Rand sought to remedy these inefficiencies through the creation of an all-electric auxiliary power unit (APU) which charges as a freight truck moves.
“APU’s have the ability to reduce fuel use by up to 90 percent,” Tew reports. “This auxiliary power unit can provide comfort for the driver and can also power the refrigeration units for the perishables in the back without having the tractor on.
“When the tractor is idle the APU then kicks in and provides the power. There are tremendous energy savings, but there are also tremendous emissions savings.”
As many businesses increase their ‘green’ offerings, consumers may wonder if they’re sacrificing performance or productivity for the sake of energy efficiency. Tew believes this doesn’t have to be the case.
“Can we actually do things in the future that use less energy and we still have no trade-offs?” he asks. “We can continue to be very productive and use energy differently. We don’t have to sacrifice our productivity levels.”
Ingersoll Rand’s sustainability ethos stretches across its corporate structure, from its office headquarters to its manufacturing facilities. Five years ago, the company asked employees to form ‘green teams’ in order to develop pathways and strategies for reducing waste and energy use at local sites. According to Tew, the impact of employee-led sustainability initiatives has been ‘significant’.
“Everybody wants to work for a company that they believe is on the same page as them, and is working toward the same goals,” he explains. “We’re changing how we design products, we’re changing how we work with customers and we’re changing how we attack these issues as employees together.”
For Tew and Ingersoll Rand, the future is now:
“The thing that ties all of our brands together is energy and energy efficiency,” he says. “Our customers continue to look to us to solve one of their big issues, which continues to be energy use and energy productivity.”
Read the January 2017 issue of Energy Digital magazine
Toyota unveils electric van and Volvo opens fuel cell lab
Toyota is launching its first zero emission battery electric vehicle, the Proace Electric medium-duty panel van, across Europe.
The model, which offers a choice of 50 or 75kWh lithium-ion batteries with range of up to 205 miles, is being rolled out in the UK, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
At present, alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs, including battery electric vehicles) account for only a fraction – around 1.8 per cent – of new light commercial van sales in the UK, but a number of factors are accelerating demand for practical alternatives to vans with conventional internal combustion engines.
Low and zero emission zones are coming into force to reduce local pollution and improve air quality in urban centres, at the same time as rapid growth in ecommerce is generating more day-to-day delivery traffic.
Meanwhile the opening of Volvo's first dedicated fuel cell test lab in Volvo Group, marks a significant milestone in the manufacturer’s ambition to be fossil-free by 2040.
Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen with oxygen, with the resulting chemical reaction producing electricity. The process is completely emission-free, with water vapour being the only by-product.
Toni Hagelberg, Head of Sustainable Power at Volvo CE, says fuel cell technology is a key enabler of sustainable solutions for heavier construction machines, and this investment provides another vital tool in its work to reach targets.
"The lab will also serve Volvo Group globally, as it’s the first to offer this kind of advanced testing," he said.
The Fuel Cell Test Lab is a demonstration of the same dedication to hydrogen fuel cell technology, as the recent launch of cell centric, a joint venture by Volvo Group and Daimler Truck to accelerate the development, production and commercialization of fuel cell solutions within long-haul trucking and beyond. Both form a key part of the Group’s overall ambition to be 100% fossil free by 2040.