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Electrifying our Heavy Vehicle Fleet

Heavy vehicles: some say they will be the last refuge of the Internal Combustion Engine. I say they won’t.

Heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses, are an integral part of modern society. Everything you own has at some point been carried by a truck. Likewise, you and everybody you know have at some point traveled in a bus. These things are a part of everyday life, and also happen to be some of the biggest polluters on our roads.

The good news is that America’s most valuable automaker, Tesla, will be unveiling a fully electric truck in September. Volvo CE has unveiled a prototype for a fully electric excavator, and while some of my friends say that electric trucks are dead in the water, I don’t believe they have had a chance to shine.

Heavy vehicles are the biggest polluter on our roads, not just because of diesel, but also because they deliver the fuel that powers them, and we already know how that works out. For these reasons, electrification is of utmost importance. Running our trucks on electricity will at worst stabilise the operating efficiency of fossil fuel power plants, and at best eliminate our need for them entirely (by virtue of pushing the oil industry into an exhibit at the Smithsonian). Either way, we are better off.

The problem with electric trucks? They are expensive. For an electric semi truck to travel 960kms with a full load would require 1,200kWh of electricity. It is minute compared to the amount of energy that is used to produce the fuel for equivalent range from a diesel truck, but it is still a lot of power to store on board. Thus requiring a lot of weight, at least with current battery technology.

But that’s old news; we have known for a long time that electric vehicles weigh more due to the amount of batteries they require – an electric truck would weigh up to 2,000 kilograms more than a diesel equivalent according to my estimates.

This isn’t the only thing coming about in this sector, either. A start-up that goes by the oh-so-original name Nikola Motor Company is taking deposits on an hydrogen-electric hybrid truck with a range of up to 1,920kms. With a range like that, the world is set to push much of the market for diesel straight into the ground over the next few years.

Passenger transport is still a catch, right? Maybe, but that is only for the short-term. Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz have both unveiled production-ready pure electric buses, which will be launching in 2018. Chinese company BYD Automotive already manufacture an electric bus, which is becoming well-used in Tel Aviv, so there is no shortage of electric power in the passenger transport sector.

These vehicles are sufficient to revolutionise the transport sector forever, especially if they develop to the point that they can travel 900kms on a charge. As it stands, electric buses currently find their maximum utility for school bus runs and peak-time public transport, where they will be able to make full use of their regenerative braking systems.

So there it is – the future looks bright! And electric…