Experts in the clean energy industry are claiming that batteries are ready to support long-haul trucking, but there are a few catches.
Of the approximately 25 potential long-range, zero-emission truck models, all expected for release in 2022, only five are powered by fuel cells. The rest run on lithium ion batteries. Just a few years ago, a battery powered big rig was unthinkable due to concerns over cost, weight, durability, and charging time but the technology is changing and these concerns may soon be invalid according to a report by Forbes.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently released a study outlining that, because battery-powered trucks will not need a fuel tank, multi-speed transmission, and much of the drive-train components, a battery powered truck capable of traveling 500 miles per day would weigh-in at around 8,000 pounds. This means that a traditional semi truck converted for battery power would experience a 10% loss in payload maximum, and a semi truck designed for battery power could experience a drop in payload as low as 3%.
However, The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) estimates that more than 80% of truckloads will be entirely unaffected by the potential weight penalties.
According to an interview with Elon Musk, battery-powered semi trucks will match the lower weight of traditional semi trucks when battery pack energy density reaches 300 Watt-hours per kilogram. Current battery technology is a mere 15% away from this goal, and battery energy density has experienced a 300% increase in efficiency since 2010, so a 15% improvement in the next few years appears to be attainable.
While there are concerns over long-charging times required by these large batteries, experts say that there “are no insurmountable technical barriers” to building charging stations that could provide 500 miles worth of power in 30 minutes.
According to Forbes, a charging station capable of powering-up five electric semi trucks at a time would use around 10 Megawatts of power – less power than is required by many urban areas. This means that fast charging stations could be implemented without major power-grid upgrades.
Although the logistics of installing charging stations along every major highway in the United States is still considered a major challenge, experts at least point out that these stations will not “break the grid,” particularly if placed along the outskirts of urban centers.
Despite these positive developments towards zero-emission semi trucks, experts still concede that transitioning to the new technology will be incredibly challenging, and will require the support and funding of government policies.