The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for transit and bus companies to reassure customers that using their service is safe. According to the CDC, inhalation of air carrying very small fine droplets and aerosol particles that contain the infectious virus is one way people can contract the sickness.

The CDC’s website states, “The largest droplets settle out of the air rapidly, within seconds to minutes. The smallest very fine droplets, and aerosol particles formed when these fine droplets rapidly dry, are small enough that they can remain suspended in the air for minutes to hours.”

METRO spoke with Stephanie Moncada, communications leader; Jody Carr, product manager, bus HVAC; and Emily Renton, product manager, indoor air quality of Thermo King Americas to get the scoop on how the company is helping customers, as well as its own staff, eliminate some of the worry.   

A Breath of Fresh Air

In the early days of the pandemic, bus operators and transit authorities were concerned, as they didn’t have a solid understanding of how COVID-19 was transmitted. Obviously, one of their top concerns was how to keep both drivers and riders safe.

“In 2019, Americans took 9.9 billion trips on public transportation, with 87% of these trips having a direct economic impact on local economies. According to the American Public Transportation Association, at the height of the pandemic in 2020, some cities experienced a nearly 90% decline in bus ridership,” according to Emily Renton.

Thermo King knew it was important for transit authorities to find a solution that would keep bus operators and riders safe and encourage people to resume ridership. The company took an agnostic approach to the type of technology it was going to move forward with.

“Air purification that works in hospitals and residential spaces isn’t going to be effective in the transit environment because of the air exchanges that occur per hour. Our system was developed to work specifically for the transit environment,” she stated.

In April 2021, Thermo King launched a new air purification solution for buses that continuously purifies the air while the bus is in operation. The Air Purification Solution is integrated in the bus HVAC. The solution leverages a filter, paired with cleaning technology, to capture and deactivate certain viruses like the one that causes COVID-19, bacteria, and volatile organic compounds as the air is exchanged.

The product went through extensive testing by an independent laboratory following guidelines of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, Thermo King’s solution is CARB certified and UL-2998 certified.

Additional key features and benefits include:

  • Requires no additional maintenance.
  • The solution leverages an innovative graphene-enhanced photocatalytic oxidation (GPCO) device coupled with a pre-filter.
  • The pre-filter collects particulate matter while the GPCO device produces oxidants that deactivate various pathogens as the air passes through.
  • Graphene’s properties enhance the performance and safety of the solution beyond what was possible with previous-generation photocatalytic oxidation products.
  • The solution can be operated while passengers are present, does not emit harmful byproducts such as ozone, and removes harmful VOCs such as formaldehyde.

HVAC Goes Electric

Jody Carr said many public transit authorities have an interest in introducing or expanding their use of zero-emission electric buses. But the move to zero-emission electric buses does not come without its own set of challenges.

“Thermo King has set out to create an all-electric bus HVAC system that can meet those challenges head-on when it comes to electrification of the transit industry,” she noted.

The next generation all-electric HVAC system offering is part of the company’s “evolve” portfolio and provides an efficient, high-capacity all-electric unit to meet the challenge of any transit’s desire to grow in the electric space. Transits don’t want to sacrifice rider comfort for sustainability.

“The largest consumer of energy on a bus is the HVAC system. Rather than drawing on power from the bus, a heat pump enables an HVAC system to draw power from the atmosphere. The device was also designed to incorporate a heat pump and in 2022, a Thermo King heat pump option will be available,” she explained.

Additional key features and benefits include:

  • On a traditional bus, the engine and HVAC system are significant sources of noise. Thermo King’s system utilizes backwards-facing inclined blowers that include noise suppressors. This technology yields a significant reduction in noise from the HVAC system in the bus.
  • Uses variable speed fans and single variable speed compressor for a wider capacity range from the lower to higher limits, consuming power only when needed to lighten the load on batteries and enable longer range.
  • Provides up to 25% more capacity than Thermo King’s first-generation electric HVAC systems.
  • Increased reliability.
  • Integrated Battery Thermal Management System (BTMS) is no longer a separate unit, which reduces the number of components that need to be serviced and maintained.
  • Energy-efficient R-407C refrigerant.

Weathering COVID-19

Since the start of the pandemic, the company has prioritized the safety and well-being of its staff. It has teams dedicated to ensuring the right processes and protocols are in place to protect employees while also continuing to serve the critical needs of its customers.

“Through the pandemic, we’ve also been providing solutions for customers’ evolving needs in areas such as indoor environmental quality in buildings, homes, schools, and on public transportation. Thermo King’s Air Purification product for buses is one example of how our teams stepped up to innovate for our customers,” Stephanie Moncada said. 

Thermo King cold chain solutions are also helping to safely and reliably transport and store critical medicines and vaccines.

Never Stop Caring

Despite the challenges that come with surviving a pandemic, the company continues to evaluate the needs of its employees, including benefits, a framework for the future of work, and programs like its Helping Hand Fund, which provides financial help to employees facing financial hardship.

“We also make sure employees stay informed and up to date as the situation changes, and provide opportunities for everyone to ask questions and participate in open dialogue. Managers also play a big role in listening and taking action on their team members’ needs and concerns,” Moncada explained.

What’s Next?

In Q2 of 2022, the Thermo King Air Purification system will be incorporated into the next generation all-electric TE18 systems and the company’s Athenia AMII models. This will complete the Air Purification system integration for all Thermo King production HVAC systems. In addition, throughout 2022, Thermo King will continue to release Air Purification system retrofit kits for legacy transit HVAC models and rail applications.