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Each of these trailers can remove the equivalent of 7 cars from the roadNovember 27, 2019

McMaster students work with Westhill Innovation to develop a solar power system for refrigerated transport trailers.

Westhill Innovation is pushing the boundaries of what transport trailers can be – through advanced materials, integrated solar power generation, and more. The team has partnered with McMaster University to develop their new technologies. 

They recognized an opportunity to reduce emissions produced by diesel generators which operate the electrical components of Class-A shipping trailers; primarily refrigeration units and lift gates. The refrigeration units, which require constant operation when long-haul drivers stop to rest, become a major source of carbon emissions. “We calculated that one refrigeration unit produces as much CO2­­ emissions as 7 passenger cars operating over the same timeframe,” says Gina Succi, one of Westhill Innovation’s co-founders.

Last year, Westhill and a team of McMaster University master's students worked through the challenges of designing a modular solar system for the rooves of transport trailers. They recognized that a single transport trailer has nearly 440 square feet of space that could be utilized for solar power generation – but doing so would require a system that is light and modular that their clients can readily install in a trailer manufacturing assembly line.

A team of master’s students from McMaster’s W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology worked with Westhill to develop a system that incorporates a 7-kWh solar array and a 20-kWh lithium ion battery bank to completely power the refrigeration unit and lift gate of a Class-A trailer. Nearing completion, they’re in the process of introducing the system to the market.

“There were a lot of ups and downs in this project, through designing, prototyping and testing, and in the end, we developed a new, functioning piece of green technology. I’m proud of what our team accomplished with Westhill Innovation,” says Mohammad Alaisowi, a member of the student design team and now a Westhill employee.

Westhill Innovation began building purpose-built panelling for transport trucks in 2016, when co-founders Emil Radoslav and Gina Succi left careers in the steel, mining and construction industries. Their patented composite system maintains the structural rigidity of the trailer, while reducing weight – and fuel consumption. The reduced weight allowed them to explore higher value-added products with increased functionality like added solar panels along with onboard battery banks.

In the future, as electric transport trucks arrive on our highways, Westhill hopes that their solar trailer technology can also extend the range of these trucks. They also see the possibility to provide feed-in power generation when parked at warehouses and stores while being loaded and unloaded.

“It’s been great working with the student teams from McMaster. Nothing makes me happier than to see people truly engaged in what they’re trying to accomplish, and working together to solve global problems,” says Succi.

Mostafa Soliman, Associate Professor, W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology, was the faculty lead on the project – supporting the student team when they had questions and needed guidance getting to the next stage. “Everyone in the room was extremely excited to produce a design that would make an impact,” says Soliman.

Westhill Innovation Inc. formalized their partnership with McMaster’s W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology in 2017 and they are embarking on a new project to incorporate AI applications for smart power allocation.