Electric trucks now competitive to diesel

A new study by Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) shows that electric battery-powered freight trucks can be economically competitive with diesel trucks. The study challenges a long-held view that has previously dismissed electric freight trucks as too costly. With battery technology improving rapidly, heavy battery electric trucks can compete – and likely soon. To be commercially competitive, such vehicles need one critical piece of infrastructure: fast charging networks.

Such a network for freight trucks could be the linchpin to transform the transportation of goods in ways that reduce pollution and the carbon emissions that underlie climate change. The findings suggest that private industry and policymakers stand to gain from creating such a network to leverage the next generation of battery technology, which promise to radically cut emissions from vehicles, and to eventually be more economically efficient than current diesel trucks.

The transportation sector generates roughly a quarter of global CO2 emissions. Within the sector, emissions heavy trucks accounts for roughly a third of all emissions – more than double those of the aviation sector.

“A tipping point is in sight for electric trucks,” said Björn Nykvist lead author and senior researcher at SEI. “Battery technology is very close to a threshold that makes electric trucks feasible and economically competitive. All that is missing is one companion component: fast charging. Now the focus needs to be on infrastructure to make quick charging possible. Electric trucks need the same sort of fast charging that is becoming widely available for personal electric cars. If this infrastructure is put in place, it invalidates the old argument that electric trucks can’t match the range of diesel trucks. This makes electric trucks much more realistic.”

The study shows that the availability of fast, high-capacity charging is a key for progress. Having such fast and powerful charging options available means that the batteries on the trucks can be kept relatively small and light. This solves a basic conceptual problem – the idea that the batteries would be so bulky and heavy that they would limit the amount of goods that the trucks could carry. This breakthrough significantly reduces costs. The combination of the efficiency of electric motors, the higher load capacity of heavy trucks, and larger potential for fuel savings of heavy trucks, enables battery-powered transport trucks to become more economically efficient than their diesel counterparts. When scaled up with a charging network, the use of such trucks could cut emissions, and they could be less expensive to operate.

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