Today, the United States is home to approximately seven million medium and heavy-duty trucks, the majority of which rely on internal combustion engines for power. This dependence on traditional engines results in these vehicles collectively producing over a quarter of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
Yet according to McKinsey, the effort to grow the zero-emission truck sector could contribute to a 20% reduction in GHG emissions by 2035 and 75% by 2050. The pressure to reduce trucking emissions is on, and across the industry, everyone is pulling together. Government targets are actively working towards a future without diesel-powered vehicles and experts are even predicting that ICE trucks could be phased out of freight sales by 2050.
Despite progress, there’s still a misconception in the long haul sector that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are not adequate. Reasons for this stem from concerns over charging time, a lack of charging infrastructure, battery-to-cargo weight ratio, and the cost of vehicles and batteries.
This article aims to mitigate these concerns, outlining the factors that underscore the robust viability of BEVs for long haul applications. It highlights how BEVs have transcended their perceived inadequacies and are now set to emerge as the advantageous choice for long haul freight management in the near future.
Current 100% charge times for heavy-duty trucks hover around 3 hours if using a 350kW charger. Yet the upcoming release of the Megawatt Charging System (MCS) standard, expected in the next few years, could provide up to 150 – 250 miles in just 30 minutes — fitting well into the mandatory rest period for truck drivers.
To further prove the point, Pepsi recently switched 3 out of 21 of their Tesla Semis over to long haul routes of between 250 and 450 miles — routes that can be completed on one single charge.
“With the massive charger that we have, 20 minutes, 30 minutes and it is back up to 95% from like 5% or 10%. The turnaround is quick,” says Corbin Emslie, LD&T Supervisor at PepsiCo.
There is a misconception that a heavy-duty truck battery needs to be heavy and large, which means decreasing a truck’s payload. During a recent North American Council on Freight Efficiency (NACFE) Run on Less Electric Depot Bootcamp, Andreas Kammel, Vice President of Alternative Drivetrains at Traton, put any weight concerns into perspective:
“In the recent past, people thought that a truck capable of going 357 miles a day, hauling 45,000 lbs, would need a battery weighing 35,000 lbs, so with BEV, they could only carry 10,000 of cargo,” he said.
“The reality of long haul in the near future is that a truck capable of going 750 miles a day hauling 45,000 lbs would need a battery weighing 11,000 lbs but could still carry about 40,000 lbs of cargo with a quick top-up during the mandatory rest period.”
Standard 18-wheel flatbed diesel trucks can carry up to 48,000 lbs of cargo; however, most cargo “cubes out before it grosses out,” filling the space limit before even hitting the weight limit. Trucks carrying these lighter loads can easily electrify now, then move to full-weight heavier loads as battery weight decreases in the next 10 years or so.
Fuel is the biggest cost factor for diesel heavy-duty trucks, representing almost 50% of the total cost of ownership (TCO) distribution, according to Traton. With BEV trucks, however, fuel costs come down when using electricity instead, as do maintenance costs — unlocking significant potential cost-per-mile savings. These cost savings can add up dramatically the more a truck drives, and in particular for long-haul fleets traveling 200+ miles.
“Imagine the fuel for a diesel truck went down to 1.5 or 2 dollars per gallon,” said Kammel. “It would still be highly competitive, even if the truck was more expensive to begin with.”
What we’ve seen so far is only the first generation of BEV and charging technology development. More robust charging technology, combined with faster-charging trucks and an abundant network of charging solutions (TeraWatt’s I-10 corridor charging sites, for instance), will all be coming online in the coming years, simplifying not only long haul but also all forms of long haul trucking.
According to Traton, in 10-15 years, we could even see things like range extenders and wireless charging on roads come into play. We’re also likely to see charging infrastructure that could help stabilize the electricity grid (eg. during mid-day solar peaks). Together, these developments will further reduce relative infrastructure and energy costs.