Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, responsible for 26 percent of emissions behind only the energy sector. Though long-haul trucks make up just 5 percent of the trucking sector, they're responsible for a whopping 20 percent of these emissions. Companies interested in cutting emissions are looking for innovative ways to make the gas-guzzling job of long-haul trucking easier on the environment. Proposed strategies include everything from developing more aerodynamic designs to utilizing self-inflating tires.
Though most people think of electric vehicles as smaller short-haul solutions, there are some intriguing possibilities for bringing this technology to the long-haul sector, as well. These creative options could give cross-country trips prime efficiency.
The Problem with Electric Engines
Electric engines are more energy-efficient than their gas-powered counterparts, but they offer a limited range. Developers have to balance the weight of the battery pack with the amount of power it provides. Though larger engines can offer an extended range, this still tops out well short of the distance needed for long-haul trucking. The prime problem with electric engines is their short life span between charges. Overcoming this limitation can help bring electric technology into the long-haul trucking sphere.
Electric Nikola Motors Concept
Nikola Motors recently unveiled a plan to build an electric tractor-trailer known as the Nikola One. A prototype is scheduled for release later this year, which will give trucking companies a better idea of how possible and affordable this technology will prove. The truck features a 320 kWh battery pack that can last for up to 1,200 miles. Its specs include 2,000 horsepower, 3,700 ft-lbs of torque, and a 6x6 100 percent electric drive.
The fine print to this truck, however, mentions that this technology is only possible when combined with a natural gas range extender. The Nikola One departs from traditional electric car designs by using a turbine to charge the batteries automatically on the road. This eliminates the need to stop and recharge, which is the biggest barrier to long-haul electric trucking.
Furrer+Frey Opbrid's Truck Swapping
Furrer+Frey Opbrid released another idea for extending electric technology to the long-haul trucking world. Their solution is possible today with the right facilities. Furrer+Frey Opbrid proposes a simple tractor swapping model that would allow trucks to swap out tractors with nearly depleted batteries for fresh ones at convenient stations around the country. The Jost KKS automated coupling system can quickly couple and uncouple tractors and trailers. Furrer+Frey's Trukbaar system could quickly recharge the depleted batteries to prepare trucks for their next trip.
This is an appealing approach because the necessary technology is already available. All that's missing is the right infrastructure to implement this energy-efficient plan. Companies would need to incorporate a strict trucking schedule to make sure fresh tractors were consistently available and depleted tractors had time to charge. Traffic flow could introduce some hiccups into the system, but ironing out these flaws might transform the trucking industry. Using the tractor-swapping approach, long-haul transportation companies could begin reaping the rewards of electric motors immediately.
Changing fuel standards will make electric technology increasingly relevant in coming years. The Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration introduced new fuel economy standards in 2011 that are just now going into effect, calling for a 20 percent reduction to fuel consumption. Phase two of these standards will apply to trucks manufactured between 2021 and 2027.
Looking forward now will help long-haul trucking companies prepare for the inevitable wave of the future. Fuel economy is a critical concern for everyone in the industry, and electric trucking might offer a surprisingly simple solution.