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Feature: How Volvo is predicting an electric future for trucks

19 July 2018 #CV Sector #Features & Interviews #TNB News #Top Stories #Truck

Earlier this month, Volvo Trucks made a key appointment, promoting Chief Engineer, Edward Jobson, to a place on its senior management team.

Jobson was named Vice President for the new Electromobility unit, charged with developing electrified solutions for city transport. In his role as Chief Engineer at Volvo Buses, he was the man who led the Swedish manufacturer’s successful electric bus launch, of which  there are now around 4,000 Volvo EVs operating in more than 100 cities across the world.

Edward Jobson, Volvo Trucks

Jobson graduated from Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden with a Masters of Science degree, where he is also an Associate Professor. Using the Electromobility engineering experience that he gained at Volvo Buses, he will develop the engineering, infrastructure and public acceptance of the company’s recently introduced battery-driven trucks – the FL Electric and the larger FE Electric.

Both zero-emission trucks will go on sale in selected European markets next year, in closely controlled and monitored trials focused on urban areas. Volvo remains tight-lipped about its investment in the project, but says it will be the truck business’ major focus over the coming years as electric trucks become more commonplace in towns and cities.

“The time has come for electric trucks,” said Jobson at a recent demonstration of Volvo’s prototype electric truck, alongside the autonomous bus he also helped to develop. “Our experience with electric buses means we have the experience of use and of the platform. The electric hydraulic system, the electric drive, the power source are all the same. We have learned a lot from the bus side.”

Volvo’s initial focus will be on local delivery and short-distance, last-mile applications where trucks return to a central terminal and can operate without the need for a public charging infrastructure, so partnerships with major delivery companies are important. But the company believes that as the market develops, so will public acceptance of the technology.

Volvo FL Electric

“We will grow market by market and segment by segment,” said Anna Thordén, Volvo Trucks’ product manager for electromobility.

After starting with urban distribution and dustbin trucks, which are operated from central hubs and relatively easy to manage, the company will introduce electric trucks in heavy duty application and long-haul distribution.

Thordén described Volvo’s new electric trucks as an opportunity to address global challenges, such as protecting air quality and reducing noise levels as the world’s population continues to shift toward urban centers. The limited noise from electric trucks poses a potential opportunity for efficient operations.

“That quieter operation may pave the way for some cities to allow trucks to operate during off-peak hours, perhaps even in the middle of the night, which would improve productivity and reduce daytime traffic congestion” she said.

In development terms, Volvo is in it – quite literally – for the long haul.

The company predicts that electric trucks could replace conventional fuels in applications such as urban distribution and refuse operations in the relatively short term, but it will take much longer in other areas, particularly long distance, where the added weight of the batteries would cut into the vehicle’s payload capacity and range would be affected by cargo.

“You don’t want to just carry ping pong balls or potato chips,” said Thordén.

The first FL Electric trucks will go into service on Volvo’s own factory sites in Sweden, as well as in trials with local government operators in Gothenburg, while the first FE Electric trucks will have refuse truck bodies and will operate in Hamburg, Germany, from next year.

Anna Thorden, Volvo Trucks

One key to the development of battery-electric trucks is the advance of lithium-ion battery technology, which Thordén said is quickly improving.

Simulations and tests with current battery technology suggest that the battery may last for the life of the vehicle, she said.  It is then a question of how to recycle batteries when they reach the end of their useful life.

“Even when the battery’s performance declines to the point that it is no longer ideal for a commercial vehicle, it will still retain 80% of its energy storage capacity,” Thordén said.

She added that Volvo plans to repurpose used electric-vehicle batteries to store energy captured by solar panels installed on a housing complex, as part of a building project in Gothenburg.

The FL will be available with two to six batteries, while the FE will be available with four to six batteries. Each lithium-ion battery provides 50 kilowatt hours of energy and weighs 520kg.

With the full complement of six batteries, Volvo say the FL Electric will offer a maximum range of up to 186 miles in ideal conditions, while the FE will offer a range of up to 125 miles, with slow or fast charging options available.

Meanwhile, electric powertrains could also reduce truck maintenance compared with traditional powertrains.

Volvo FE Electric

“We add a little bit of maintenance but we take a lot more away, so the net is positive,” said Edward Jobson. “We’ll do less maintenance and we’ll do it less frequently.”

The trucks incorporate electric driveline technology that sister company Volvo Buses has already deployed in more than 4,000 electrified buses, which are operating mainly in Europe. Most of those buses are hybrids, but others are fully electric.

Jobson believes that the development of electric trucks will be much quicker than with buses due to the lessons learned over the past two decades of bringing them to market.

“It’s like what a Nobel Prize winner once said,” he surmised. “It took me 20 years to get the Nobel Prize, to do all this new thinking, but when I get new students it takes them two months to learn what took me all that time. It’s the same thing.”