reefer fuel

What is Reefer Fuel?- Complete Guide By YourBestFleet

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Reefer fuel is an indispensable component in the logistics sector, especially when you consider that as of 2019, the global refrigerated transport market was valued at approximately $15.5 billion. This specialized fuel powers the refrigeration units in trucks, shipping containers, and rail cars, ensuring that perishable goods like food and pharmaceuticals are kept at the necessary temperatures during transit.

The significance of reefer fuel is made even more apparent in a world where it is essential for carrying vaccines and life-saving drugs in addition to playing a crucial role in retaining fresh meat and produce. Reefer fuel is a crucial part of the current global supply chain since it allows for a controlled environment.

With these facts as a backdrop, let’s go into the specifics of what reefer fuel is, how it functions, and why it’s so crucial in the modern world.

Components and Specifications of Reefer Fuel

Explore different fuel types for reefers, from diesel to greener options like biodiesel, CNG, and LNG. Learn about quality standards, additives, and essential specifications for a smooth and efficient refrigeration unit operation. But first, let us understand the specifications and components of a reefer fuel

Quality Standards

When selecting a reefer fuel, one can’t just pick any type off the shelf. Multiple standards dictate what qualifies as high-quality reefer fuel:

  1. Cetane Number: A measure of the fuel’s ignition quality, a higher cetane number usually means a better, more efficient fuel. 
  2. Energy Content: High-quality reefer fuels have higher energy content, which ensures they can maintain consistent temperatures over longer periods.
  3. Stability: The fuel should remain stable under a range of temperatures, ensuring it doesn’t deteriorate quickly.
  4. Lubricity: Good reefer fuel should provide adequate lubrication to engine parts to prevent wear and tear.
  5. ISO Standards: Compliance with ISO standards is often considered a benchmark for quality. ISO 8217 is commonly referenced for reefer fuels, outlining the specifications and requirements that need to be met.

Additives and Treatments

Sometimes, reefer fuels are treated with additives to enhance their properties:

  1. Cold Flow Improvers: These additives help reefer fuel function effectively even at low temperatures, crucial for refrigerated transport.
  2. Anti-Gel Additives: These prevent the fuel from gelling or solidifying under cold conditions, ensuring smooth operations.
  3. Corrosion Inhibitors: These additives reduce the corrosive effects of the fuel, increasing the lifespan of both the fuel and the engine.
  4. Biocides: These are used to prevent microbial growth in the fuel, which could otherwise lead to spoilage and clogging.

Types of Fuel Used in Reefer Trucks

When it comes to reefer fuel, you might wonder if it’s all the same. The answer is a resounding “no.” Several different types of fuels can be used for reefer units, each with its own set of advantages and drawbacks.

  1. Diesel: The most commonly used reefer fuel, diesel is known for its high energy density and wide availability. However, it’s not the most environmentally friendly option out there.
  2. Biodiesel: As a greener alternative, biodiesel is becoming increasingly popular in reefer transport. Made from vegetable oils or animal fats, biodiesel burns cleaner and is renewable.
  3. Alternative Fuels: Some newer reefer units are experimenting with alternative fuels like compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). These options emit fewer pollutants but may be limited in availability.
  4. Solar Energy: Though not a fuel in the traditional sense, solar panels are being added to some reefer units to supplement traditional fuels, further reducing their environmental impact.

How Does Reefer Fuel Work?

You can gain important insights regarding reefer fuel’s critical function in temperature-sensitive transport by understanding the mechanics behind it. Let’s examine how it functions to offer a safe atmosphere for perishable commodities.


Reefer fuel doesn’t fuel the main engine of the truck, ship, or train; instead, it powers a separate, smaller engine attached to the refrigeration unit. Think of this as a specialized “mini power plant” that has a sole purpose: to keep the refrigeration system running smoothly. This separation allows for the transport vehicle to be turned off or even undergo maintenance without affecting the temperature of the stored goods.

  1. Starting Up: When the refrigeration unit is activated, the reefer engine draws fuel from its dedicated tank.
  2. Ignition and Combustion: The fuel undergoes combustion in the reefer engine, producing the energy required to power the refrigeration system.
  3. Conversion to Mechanical Energy: This combustion energy is then converted into mechanical energy that drives the compressor of the refrigeration unit.
  4. Refrigeration Cycle: The compressor circulates refrigerant through the system, removing heat from the cargo area and releasing it outside, thus maintaining the desired internal temperature.

Temperature Control

The entire reason for having a reefer unit is to control the temperature meticulously. Powered by its specialized fuel, the reefer unit can maintain exact temperatures, which is essential for perishable goods that have a narrow window of temperature tolerance.

  1. Thermostat Monitoring: Modern reefer units come equipped with advanced thermostats that continuously monitor the interior temperature.
  2. Automated Adjustments: Should the temperature deviate from the set range, the reefer unit automatically adjusts its performance, drawing on its fuel supply to increase or decrease cooling as needed.
  3. Data Logging: Many reefer units also record temperature data, providing a detailed history that can be reviewed for quality assurance.

Backup Systems

In some advanced setups, reefer units come with backup systems that kick in if the main system fails, further emphasizing the importance of a reliable fuel source.

  1. Secondary Engine: Some reefer units have a secondary, smaller engine as a backup, also powered by reefer fuel.
  2. Battery Backup: In other cases, a battery backup can temporarily maintain the temperature until the main system is restored.
  3. Alarms and Notifications: In either case, modern systems usually come with alarms and notifications to alert operators of any issues immediately, allowing for rapid problem-solving.

Knowing how reefer fuel functions is similar to knowing how the cold chain logistics sector beats. Reefer fuel is the unsung but essential hero who ensures that your groceries arrive fresh and that essential medicines are kept effective, powering everything from the particular engine it drives to the cutting-edge temperature controls it makes possible.

Why is Reefer Fuel Different from Regular Fuel?

When discussing reefer fuel, a common question that arises is how it differs from the regular fuel used in vehicle engines. After all, they both essentially serve the same purpose of generating energy, right? While that’s true to some extent, there are unique characteristics that set reefer fuel apart from its traditional counterpart. Let’s explore these differences to get a clearer picture of what makes reefer fuel distinct.

Specialized Formulation

The first thing to note is that reefer fuel is specifically formulated to meet the unique demands of reefer trucks. These engines operate under different conditions and have different requirements compared to a vehicle’s main engine.

  1. Lower Sulfur Content: Many reefer fuels are low-sulfur or ultra-low-sulfur variants, which helps reduce emissions and is less corrosive to the reefer unit’s engine.
  2. High Cetane Numbers: As mentioned earlier, higher cetane numbers indicate better ignition quality, a feature often prioritized in reefer fuel formulations.
  3. Additives: Reefer fuels often come pre-mixed with specific additives that enhance their performance, like cold flow improvers and corrosion inhibitors.

Energy Efficiency

Another major difference lies in the focus on energy efficiency. While both types of fuels aim to be energy-efficient, reefer fuel must be exceptionally so because refrigeration units often need to run continuously for long periods.

  1. High Energy Density: Reefer fuel generally has a higher energy density, meaning it can provide the same amount of energy while consuming less volume, a crucial factor when you consider the limited space for fuel storage in a refrigerated vehicle.
  2. Slow Burn Rate: The fuel is designed to have a slower burn rate, enabling the engine to maintain consistent temperatures for extended periods without requiring frequent refueling.

Temperature Sensitivity

Reefer fuel is designed to perform under a wide range of temperatures, which isn’t usually a primary consideration for regular vehicle fuel.

  1. Cold Flow Properties: Reefer fuel is often formulated to work well at low temperatures, a necessity given that reefer units may be required to maintain sub-freezing conditions.
  2. Anti-Gelling: Standard fuel might gel at very low temperatures, but reefer fuels are designed or treated to prevent this, ensuring the reefer unit’s consistent operation.

 Cost Factor

While cost-efficiency is a significant factor in both types of fuel, reefer fuel usually leans towards quality over economy. The stakes are often higher with perishable or sensitive goods, and any compromise on fuel quality could result in spoilage, making quality a top priority.

  1. Higher Cost: Given the specialized additives and quality standards, reefer fuel can often be more expensive than regular fuel.
  2. Quality Assurance: Users are generally willing to pay a premium for high-quality reefer fuel, understanding that the long-term benefits and reliability outweigh the initial cost.

In essence, while reefer fuel and regular fuel both serve to power engines, the differences in their formulations, applications, and considerations make reefer fuel a specialized type of fuel that’s tailored to meet the unique demands of refrigerated transport.

Reefer Fuel Cost

When it comes to the operational logistics of running a reefer unit, understanding the economics behind reefer fuel is not just good practice, but essential for effective management. Let’s delve into the financial aspects that influence the usage, cost, and overall economic implications of reefer fuel.

Price Fluctuations

Like any fuel type, the price of reefer fuel is subject to market fluctuations influenced by a variety of factors.

  1. Global Oil Prices: The cost of crude oil on the global market directly impacts the price of reefer fuel.
  1. Seasonal Demand: During periods of high demand, like summer and winter, when extreme temperatures necessitate more cooling or heating, prices can escalate.
  1. Geographical Variations: Depending on the location, taxes, and import duties can add to the cost of reefer fuel.

Volume vs Cost

The volume of fuel needed is another aspect affecting the economics of reefer fuel.

  1. Energy Density: Since reefer fuel generally has high energy density, you might need less volume compared to regular fuel to achieve the same results.
  1. Storage Capacity: The onboard storage capacity for fuel is limited, so high energy density can be an economic advantage.
  1. Frequency of Refueling: More energy-dense fuel means fewer stops for refueling, which can save both time and labor costs.

Operational Costs

The economics of reefer fuel aren’t solely about the fuel itself but also include the operational costs related to its use.

  1. Maintenance: High-quality reefer fuel can reduce maintenance costs over the long term.
  1. Efficiency: Better fuel can also improve operational efficiency, reducing the overall fuel volume needed and thereby cutting costs.
  1. Quality Assurance: The peace of mind of knowing that you’re reducing the risk of spoilage or temperature fluctuations can be an intangible but real economic benefit.

Environmental Regulations

As governments around the world tighten environmental regulations, federal rules and regulations also has an impact on reefer fuel economics.

  1. Low-Sulfur Mandates: Fuels that meet low-sulfur requirements are often more expensive to produce, and that cost is passed on to the consumer.
  1. Emission Taxes: Some jurisdictions impose taxes on fuels based on their emission levels, further influencing the overall economy.
  1. Compliance Costs: The cost of ensuring your reefer fuel and unit comply with local and international regulations can add to the overall expenses.


Reefer fuel is more than just a type of fuel; it’s a linchpin in the global supply chain for perishable goods. As we navigate the complexities of modern commerce and strive for a more sustainable future, understanding the role and nuances of reefer fuel becomes increasingly important.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is reefer fuel more expensive than regular fuel?

  • Yes, due to its specialized nature and quality requirements.

2. How does reefer fuel impact the environment?

  • It has emissions, but sustainable alternatives are on the rise.

3. What are the safety precautions for handling reefer fuel?

  • Specialized containers, personal protective equipment, and adherence to safety protocols are required.


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