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Trailar: Are solar mats revolutionizing the transport industry?

Aaron Thomas and Denny Hulme are the cofounders of an industry first: a solar-charging innovation for trucks that saves fuel and reduces vehicle emissions.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Since 2016, my colleague Denny and I have been working on a product called TRAILAR – ultrathin solar matting fitted to the roof of small, medium and large rigid trucks and trailers. This invention has the power to revolutionize the transport industry because the natural energy the mats harvest helps charge a vehicle’s battery and can be used to run various on-board activities such as air conditioning and tail lifts. This reduces the need to run the truck’s engine, which, in turn, improves fuel consumption and lowers vehicle emissions. It’s a win-win.

The product had an unusual beginning. Denny and I worked for DHL Supply Chain in the U.K. We met during a management development program where we were asked to come up with an idea that would disrupt the U.K. transport industry. We wondered if it would be possible to integrate solar technology with heavy goods vehicles, although we knew it had been tried before without success using the type of panels installed on domestic roofs. We talked to leading U.K. universities and a commercial vehicle manufacturer about developing a smaller, smarter solution and presented it to the CEO of DHL Supply Chain in the U.K.

I’m pleased to say the result was a big success – and an industry first. We had excellent feedback from the transport sector and great support from DHL and, after a trial, began developing TRAILAR as a product we could take to market. At first, we did this alongside our day jobs. We then made it into Deutsche Post DHL Group’s “Start-up Lab”, the company’s incubator program, in early 2018. Meanwhile, we’ve started full-time roles at TRAILAR. The Group gave us the green light to install TRAILAR on its vehicles, so we’ve begun rolling that out, starting with the U.K. It’s also available for any rigid vehicle, anywhere in the world.

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TRAILAR ties in well with DHL’s GoGreen program and contributes toward the company’s goal of becoming the zero-emissions logistics leader by 2050. It’s been shortlisted for various industry awards; and we are one of 10 start-ups in the 2018 Climate KIC Accelerator, the world’s largest green business ideas competition and accelerator program. It’s been an incredibly exciting three years. But really, we’re only getting started: With our growing team, we’ll give it everything we’ve got to get TRAILAR on the road – on trucks, trailers and even more vehicle types around the world! — Tony Greenway

Published: January 2019


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