Gasoline and diesel may be on their way out for passenger vehicles, and it’s looking like the same could be true for semi trucks, too. Multiple companies are racing to design and produce all-electric semi trucks, and whoever gets to market first with a workable design that allows for long distances to be travelled emissions-free could win big. They also might help make a big dent in global automotive C02 emissions.
Curious about the kinds of electric semis that are in development? Here’s a look at some of the notable projects that are underway.
1. Students in Dispatch Training Shouldn’t Be Surprised if They See a Tesla Truck Soon
Tesla’s got the most brand name recognition for electric vehicles, and with lots of room to grow in the commercial space, it’s perhaps no surprise that one of the next big projects for Tesla will be an electric semi truck.
Tesla has a lot to offer in this area. Its Model S and Model X vehicles are renowned for being powerful machines, and Musk has suggested that a Tesla semi could actually use many of the same parts—including the engine—that are found in those vehicles. This could cut down on development time and production costs significantly. The company also has pretty good autonomous driving experience it could import to its semi, making it easier for drivers on long trips to stay focused and safe.
Very little has been announced about the vehicle, and you likely won’t encounter a Tesla truck until well after your transportation operations program is over. Given everything Tesla has to offer, though, whatever it does produce could be pretty impressive.
2. The Nikola EV Wants to Take a Different Approach to Electric Trucking
The problem with modern battery-powered electric cars is that they require huge batteries to be able to travel long distances. With an enormous vehicle like a semi truck, that will be an even bigger problem.
The solution, according to the “Nikola” EV truck company, is to build out infrastructure for hydrogen fuelling. A truck that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity won’t need to devote the same amount of space and weight to a battery, and will be able to travel long distances—1,287-1,931 km on hydrogen fuel. Fuelling times are about the same as for regular fuels, which is another point for hydrogen over battery power, which takes a long time to charge up. Nikola claims its trucks should be substantially cheaper to fuel than regular trucks, too.
A potentially big issue is that the up-front cost of the Nikola EV would be about $620,000—around four times what it costs for a regular semi. What’s more, the infrastructure for hydrogen fuelling just does not exist, meaning it will take a lot of building and work to make hydrogen-electric semis a viable option. Production begins in 2020—again, well after you will finish dispatch training—so time will tell whether the Nikola is able to capture the market the way it wants to.
3. After Dispatch Training, You May Want to Use Mercedes-Benz’s eTruck in the City
Because travelling long distances will be a tough feat for electric trucks to manage, some companies aren’t even bothering to try designing trucks that can pull that off. Take the Mercedes-Benz eTruck, for instance, which is already being tested. It has a range of just 200 km, meaning it’s really not suited to transporting cargo between distant cities—and that’s not what the company intends it to do. Rather, the eTruck is being positioned as something that can offer clean delivery within a limited range, allowing for the low operational costs of electric vehicles to be enjoyed by companies that don’t need to go outside of an urban area.
This project is a good example of why sustainability in transportation does not need to be a “one size fits all” affair. In your career, you might be able to dispatch something like the eTruck for urban deliveries, and make a moderate improvement to sustainability on that front, while still relying on diesel for longer hauls. Every bit counts, and this sort of gradual shift could be beneficial both in the short term and long term.
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