So much is happening in the world of transport, just yesterday we wrote that hydrogen-powered lorries have the future. At least, if it is up to cooperation between truck manufacturers and energy companies. But the electric alternative is also on the way. Auke is sure of it. “A number of years ago you were called a fool when you talked about electric trucks.” He makes a dismissive gesture in front of his screen when he lists: “Too heavy, too expensive, unreliable, too limited in range and so on. Utter nonsense, so a lot of people thought and were therefore never seriously considered as a viable option. But fortunately, more and more parties are now realizing that trucks, too, can easily be driven electrically.”
At the same time, Auke notices that this insight is creating resistance among companies that prefer to maintain the status quo. He bows to the screen with exaggerated flair: “Whoah, wait a minute, this is not supposed to happen. It should stay the way it’s always been.” Auke sits up straight again. “At first, electric trucks were ignored, but now that it turns out that this is actually a serious option, there is a backlash. The same thing happened with the advent of the electric car, which was not taken seriously in the early years either. “Now after the fact, everyone understands how stupid that actually was.”
Electric trucks are not a futuristic vision
Which is why Auke is trying to garner more attention for electric trucks. “During the podcast Cleaning up by Michael Liebreich, where I was a guest, I was allowed to broach a subject. I made grateful use of that,” Auke laughs heartily. “I have been saying for a long time already that an EV truck is not a futuristic vision. It is already possible now. That part of the podcast in which I explain this is now being quoted by loads of people. I think it’s awesome. In addition to the usual resistance to change, I see – on Twitter and elsewhere – that more and more people are positive and are thinking: ‘Hey, it is possible!”
According to Auke, manufacturers have also recently picked up on this. In his view, it helps that the new EU legislation allows sustainable trucks (hydrogen and electric) to weigh 2 metric tons more. “You have to reassemble a truck like that from the ground up. Many traditional parts such as long steel driveshafts or a differential to negotiate bends are no longer needed. If you do that right, you can save up to 3 metric tons of steel. This makes the truck more efficient and allows you to install extra batteries, for one thing.”
Battery technology is improving rapidly
It will be some time before the largest trucks are all also electric, but Auke is expecting the first models in 2022. “You now mostly see tests with trucks with a range of 200 kilometres. Sometimes 400. That’s still not enough, you actually want to reach 700-800 kilometres. Certainly for 40-ton trucks, which drive more than 500 kilometres a day as it is. With the existing EV trucks, you will then have to recharge along the way. However, fast-charging options are still limited. Actually, there should have been a 40-ton truck already, but Tesla keeps postponing the launch of the Semi. And at Nikola Motors, one investment did not go ahead and is now being used on a hydrogen model instead.”
Yet that does not mean that there is nothing happening. Auke once again points out that battery technology is improving rapidly. “A few years ago, a battery still lacked enough recharging cycles for intensive use. It was quickly depleted with so many kilometers in a single day. That hasn’t been the case for a long time. Compare it with large transport companies, which usually sell their diesel trucks to smaller companies after five years because the maintenance then becomes too expensive. Batteries now last at least that long.” And there will be plenty of room for all of that over the coming period, Auke predicts. “In five years’ time, the lifespan of a battery will have increased even further, then they will easily last ten years.”
Diesel vs electric
And what about diesel engines? Aren’t they getting better? Auke starts nodding. “Definitely, a diesel engine is already 40% more efficient than an ordinary petrol car. This makes it more difficult for EV trucks to enter the market than it was for electric cars. The particulate filters in diesel trucks are also very good. It is sometimes said that the air coming out of the back of a new diesel is cleaner than what goes in at the front. On dirty roads, that’s really true.”
But trucks emit more than just particulate matter. What about CO2? Auke is well aware that diesel trucks that are now on the road emit a great deal of CO2. Some 40% of the CO2 emissions on roads come from haulage. The 40-tonners account for more than 65% of these emissions. “That is a huge bite out of our CO2 budget. If these big trucks all become electric, then those CO2 emissions will be avoided. You will save on all of that. The CO2 released during the battery production process will also pay for itself more quickly than an EV car. This is because you make full use of the truck’s battery every day. You catch up on the CO2 backlog faster that way.”
EV truck emits less CO2 than a diesel truck
According to an update of a STREAM study conducted by CE Delft on transport (Study on Transport Emissions of All Modes), electric trucks emitted less CO2 in 2018 than diesel trucks over their entire lifespan. And that difference is only intensifying. Auke was asked to include the CO2 impact of battery production in these comparisons. “It is a reputable agency and this study is one of the best sources you can find in this field. It proves that I’m not just harping on about anything.”
In order to draw more attention to the subject, ‘Auke’s chapter (PDF)’ has been translated into English. “This way I can make a bit of commotion on Twitter,” he jokes. “I am quite proud that I have contributed to this and it is nice that it is appearing in English at my request. But it also feels a bit weird.” Then grinning: “Gee, I’ve become a bit of an institution!”
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