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Beyond the depot: EV truck charging

17 June 2021 #Features & Interviews #TNB News

Infrastructure is a popular word when alternative fuels are discussed, and with good reason: it’s vital for the support of widespread electrified powertrain, hydrogen or biofuel adoption.

Electrification is growing in popularity within the van segment as manufacturers bring new all-electric models to market, and the technology is also being rapidly rolled out by regional bus operators. Now, truck manufacturers such as Scania, Volvo, DAF, Renault Trucks and MAN are also committing to electric versions of their vehicles from 7.5 tonnes upwards, alongside dedicated EV manufacturers Volta Truck and Tevva. Buses running dedicated routes and urban hubs servicing specific city areas ease the process of planning routes aligned with vehicle range and capability, but what about vehicles which operate under less predictable requirements? How viable is day-to-day operation of a heavy-duty EV, especially for those fleets without a multimillion pound infrastructure?

According to figures released by Statista last month, transportation is now the most polluting sector in the UK, responsible for 27% of the country’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2019. HGVs are the second largest emitter of transport emissions in the UK, behind passenger cars. Therefore, it is unsurprising that manufacturers and fleet operators are committing to reducing this figure with a range of solutions.

The current all-electric trucks available are designed with a single home depot or hub in mind, having sustained sufficient overnight charge to carry out a day’s work in and around a city centre. The Volta Zero, for example, a 16-tonne all-electric truck, has been designed to reduce the environmental impact of city centre deliveries and has undergone trials with companies such as F&G Transport, its first customer Drinks Cubed and Petit Forestier, which ordered 1,000 units to serve its refrigerated trailer hire business. Further reinforcing the belief that the sector is invested in electrification, Volta Trucks has since announced a planned expansion of its line-up to include 7.5-tonne, 12-tonne and 19-tonne variants.

However, for broader use the truck sector is in the enviable position of being able to learn from the roll out of bus technology. As Bernard Magee, electric vehicle charging director at Siemens explains of the ability to refine infrastructure requirements and the need to draw power from the grid, “Electric truck charging installations face similar, if not many of the same operational challenges as e-Bus environments, which have taught us much about the electrification of transport. These learnings have translated into invaluable insights about the use of optimum charging strategies, efficient grid management and workable financial models.

“Heavy-duty intercity transports may require a blend of en route and depot charging,” he continues. “Pantographs – retractable charging apparatus – more commonly deployed in Europe and US, could be deployed for rapid opportunity charging if appropriate, while a mix of cleaner fuel types could be used for covering greater distances.”

Wireless charging is currently in the development and validation stages (one such project led by Coventry City Council is currently underway), but pantograph technology, an overhead power cable capable of connecting at any legal speed, has already been demonstrated by the company’s eHighway concept, the first of which was deployed in Sweden in 2016, followed by Germany and North America. In support, the Federation of German Industries, for example, has recommended the utilisation of an active pantograph, across just under 2500 miles of the country’s most busy motorway network. According to Siemens, the system could save 7,000,000 tonnes of CO2 each year if 30% of the country’s motorways utilised the technology.

In the UK, a white paper produced by The Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (bringing together Cambridge University Engineering Department, Heriot Watt University Logistics Research Centre and the Freight and Logistics Research Group at the University of Warminster) stated that the roll out of an Electric Road System (ERS) could almost eliminate the carbon dioxide emissions of road freight. By enabling trucks to effectively top up their charge, it would also bring the most rural areas of the country within range. It stated that, with £19.3bn investment, a 4,300 mile ERS could be completed by the late 2030s.

The study favoured the pantograph solution as being the most mature and cost-effective solution, and stated that it would link to lorries travelling in the inside lane of key UK links. The paper also claims that, ‘under some reasonable pricing scenarios, the revenues could be sufficient to entirely replace the current fuel tax levied on HGVs’, and that ‘investment in pantograph-electric vehicles by fleet operators could payback within 18 months (due to lower energy costs), with substantial headroom to raise revenue through increased electricity excise tax for the government’.

“Pressure is mounting on the transport and logistics sector to embrace and develop clean sustainable transport options,” concludes Magee. “If we’re going to map out a low-carbon future for fleet operators, then early-movers on this journey must take a phased and measured approach with both vehicles and charging infrastructure. Gaining vital experience through small pilots where experimentation can take place and solutions can be road tested, but never losing sight of the endgame: the 100% shift towards electrification.”

To support heavy-duty EV uptake, charge system commonality is as important as the physical countrywide infrastructure. To combat this, a number of partnerships are forming, as Siemens’ head of future grid, Jean-Christoph Heyne explains of his company’s tie-up with Digital Charging Solutions (DCS), “Electrifying corporate fleets comes with a variety of challenges. In addition to the management and maintenance of the hardware, the main thing is making charging and the associated processes as simple as possible. Charging fleets needs to be as easy as charging a smartphone.”

The EV Network and bp pulse also combined forces in March to develop a new UK network of rapid and ultra-fast e-forecourts and hubs that are suitable for supporting electric vans, but which could lead the way for wider infrastructure suitable for trucks.

The company’s head of insight and external affairs, Tom Callow told TNB that the tie-up was “driven by demand” and that we should expect to “see the emergence of new formats of charging to support a broader range of vehicles. Just as there are HGV-specific lanes at motorway forecourts, you will see dedicated infrastructure to support the full range of EVs coming to market.”

Manufacturers are also taking steps to ensure that customers are best supported when making the electrification switch. DAF announced last month that it would be offering infrastructure support through supply of PACCAR chargers optimised for individual needs. The company offers fixed charging stations from 20kW to 360kW or mobile chargers from 24kW to 40kW. The fixed chargers, says DAF, are designed for operators with vehicles on multiple routes or working in multiple shifts. For example, a 180kW unit provides the power needed to charge most trucks in less than three hours.

A 350kW PACCAR charger can charge a fully electric DAF truck in less than two hours, or fast charge two vehicles simultaneously.

“The application of fully electric trucks requires a specific way of planning and operations,” explains Richard Zink, DAF Trucks marketing and sales director. “DAF makes this conversion as easy as possible for its customers. We always advise about how an electric truck delivers the highest return on investment in the daily operation. And as from today we also offer our customers premium quality charging equipment so that they are assured of the most optimal integration between the truck and charging station.”

Fleet support will continue to expand and evolve as vehicle technology develops. For example, all new warehouse operations invested in by DHL (early adopter of the UK’s first 16-tonne EV) are being proactively prepared for EV charging infrastructure, and as this becomes more commonplace across retail the roles that electric trucks are suitable for will diversify: charging while loading or unloading via electric hook-up or even wirelessly. Battery technology in areas such as thermal management and efficiency will also improve, enabling faster charges and greater range. Overnight charges may well be the norm as the industry establishes an optimised solution for each use-case, but the support network is developing at a pace that should ensure that nobody is left feeling flat.

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