Can Heavy Electric Trucks Be Deployed Industrywide by 2045?

Researchers Discuss the Feasibility, Challenges at TRB
Electric Truck
A driver charges his truck. (Volvo Trucks)

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WASHINGTON — Successful electrification of heavy trucks will require motor carriers to coordinate driver rest periods with charging their trucks, a potential obstacle that could increase carrier operational costs and result in delivery delays.

That potential challenge was among several researchers outlined at a session Jan. 9 at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.

“Drivers say that truck parking needs are a crisis,” said Jeffrey Short, a researcher for the American Transportation Research Institute. “A total of 315,000 parking spots available means that in some places a truck driver will not be able to find a place to park. We think every parking place in the U.S. is going to need a charger, and that’s not going to be enough if all trucks were shifted over to electric.”

So, no parking space might also mean no place to charge a truck, according to Short.



“You can no longer park on the side of the highway when you really need to charge your vehicle,” Short said. “So we’re going to need more parking spaces,” he said. “Some remote or rural parking spaces may not even be within reach of electricity. Somebody’s going to have to figure that out.”

Jane Lin, a presenter at the session and professor in the department of civil, materials and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois — Chicago, underscored Short’s remarks.

“Can we come up with a solution that when drivers need to take a rest break, to use that idling time to charge the batteries so they don’t have to prolong their journey time due to charging?” Lin asked.

The breaks and charging need to be synchronized, Lin said.

Lin also has concerns that there could be a shortage of fast chargers for longhaul truckers.

“If you want to go from the West Coast to the East Coast, you won’t be able to do so with EV trucks because there’s just no charging infrastructure.”



Lin also noted that for large trucks, charging infrastructure needs to be a mile or less from interstate highways.

“In my opinion, there hasn’t been sufficient policy incentives for longhaul e-truck adoption,” Lin said. “We’re been talking a lot about passenger electronic vehicles, but not about longhaul electric trucks, and the lack of charging infrastructure, and high initial adoption costs.”

Lin said her research looked at several different travel distances with electric trucks. She concluded that the average time on the road with electric trucks would be about 20% longer than with diesel trucks.

“That’s the disadvantage,” Lin said. “The good thing is that the total cost and the energy consumption showed tremendous savings when we switch to e-trucks.”

“CO2 levels will be reduced by 30% overall with batteries,” Short said. “Hydrogen fuel cell trucks will reduce a little better number.”

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“But because the batteries are so big, we found that 13,800 pounds of regular weight would no longer be available for a heavy truck. As a result some carriers would need to use two trucks to carry the same shipment. You actually get more range, less cargo and more cost as you increase the capabilities of the truck.”

Short also said that projected shortages in mineral raw materials needed for battery production could mean that the industry’s conversion to electric trucks will stretch beyond the 2045 target that policymakers have suggested. The electrification of trucks will likely require motor carriers to compete for electricity with energy users ranging from households to large companies.

“There’s a lot of investment needed by the utilities,” Short said. “We’re going to need 40% more electricity for the transportation sector.”

“Looking forward, truck electrification is going to be a huge concern. The trucks are more expensive, and they don’t always fit into operations.”

The cost of heavy-duty electric trucks are expected to rise to $300,000-$400,000, compared with Class 8 diesel trucks that typically sell for around $150,000, researchers said.