Heavy-duty freight trucks are considered to be one of transportation's hardest-to-decarbonize segments. But the falling prices of batteries, on top of their increasing range and an expanding fast-charging network, could change that.
The study shows that the total cost of electric freight trucks could be as much as 50 percent cheaper than diesel trucks by 2030.
According to the report, the push to electrify heavy-duty freight trucks can capitalize on fast-falling battery pack prices. These have fallen by more than 88 percent over the past decade and are expected to continue falling.
This trend is the primary reason that battery electric vehicles have the edge over the other leading zero-emissions option – hydrogen fuel cell trucks. The latter lacks the extensive hydrogen refueling infrastructure needed by the vehicles, on top of other challenges. (Related: Are hydrogen-powered freight trucks ready to roll out?)
While neither option is widely available today, truck manufacturers such as Volvo, Scania and Kenworth, as well as electric vehicle leader Tesla, are all launching electric freight truck models.
"This exciting new potential for heavy-duty truck electrification offers significant economic and environmental benefits, and is emerging much faster than commonly believed," says Dr. Amol Phadke of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "The observed decline in battery costs has been more dramatic than what was forecast just a couple [of] years ago."
Battery pack prices currently stand at $135 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) internationally. At that price, an electric Class 8 truck – the heaviest long-haul truck with a gross vehicle weight of more than 33,000 pounds – traveling an average of 300 miles a day would cost 13 percent less to own and operate per mile than its diesel-powered equivalent.
In addition, the electric truck, with a range of 375 miles, would pay for itself in less than three years, saving its owner about $200,000 over its lifetime. When applied to a large trucking fleet, these cost savings can quickly add up into the millions. In turn, these could add up to billions of savings when multiplied over the estimated two million tractor trailers currently on U.S. roads.
The only place where diesel trucks still beat out electric is in upfront cost. Currently, a 375-mile range truck with the current battery price tag of $135/kWh costs 75 percent more than a diesel counterpart. But this is expected to change as batteries continue to get cheaper.
In addition to their costs, the range of batteries was one of the initial roadblocks to the adoption of heavy-duty electric freight trucks.
But range anxiety has become less of an issue thanks to long-distance freight schedules combined with today's advances in battery technology. As battery costs have fallen, so too has their density risen. This means that electric trucks with a range of up to 375 miles (or 300 miles with an 80 percent full battery) may not need to reduce the amount of cargo they haul (having an electric power train weight substantially less than a diesel one).
Further reductions in freight truck's weight and improving aerodynamics should enable even greater ranges. For example, Tesla's upcoming Semi Class 8 electric truck is expected to have a range of over 600 miles.
This is more than the distance currently allowed by the law. Federal rules prohibit truck drivers from driving more than eight hours without a 30-minute break. This translates to a distance of about 450 miles, which means that a 500-mile range truck might be sufficient for commercial trucking.
Meanwhile, further research from Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that the average distance to a 30-minute break that can be used to add significant range with fast charging is 190 miles for long-haul trucks and 150 miles for regional-haul trucks. These account for 70 percent of the fuel consumed in trucking.
All this means that most electric trucks will have sufficient range for most trips in the near future, provided that charging infrastructure exists.
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