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Posted on June 03, 2016 by Dr Peter Harrop

Electric trucks: complete disagreement

Solid-State and Polymer Batteries 2017-2027
Trucks have to clean up their act if they are not to become illegal under the impending 2025 and 2030 legislation and those that jump the gun will probably gain market share because that clean up typically comes with fuel saving key to profitability in fleet operations working on wafer thin margins. Everyone agrees about that - but how to do it? Complete disagreement.
BYD achieves it with their equivalent long distance coaches by battery only and fairly fast charge. If Aleees of Taiwan moved from large buses into trucks they would doubtless take their battery swapping technology with them but the truck makers take neither of those options, though a recent German study showed that only 400 km of overhead charging catenary in short strips across Germany would enable pure electric trucks to span the whole country at a fraction of the cost of the fuel cell infrastructure that the lead-footed German Government is reluctant to fund. It has even been Europe's laggard in supporting pure electric cars.
No, the truck companies themselves want something longer range and not limited to light and medium duty. Really heavy trucks please, where Ricardo has calculated that you simply cannot carry enough hydrogen on board to get the job done with those expensive fuel cells. See the IDTechEx Research report, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles 2015-2030: Land, Water, Air External Link.
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Volvo Trucks is extremely keen on 48V mild hybrid technology as a way of squeezing past the post because this is a relatively easy incremental way of improving existing powertrains, notably with motor-generators and a lithium-ion battery of four times the capacity and with four times the current capability in the system. This permits engine downsizing by up to 60%, up to four pure electric modes and excellent multiple regeneration and external energy harvesting. Many pneumatic, hydraulic and mechanical clients are electrified. The old lead acid batteries could not cope with any of that. See the IDTechEx Research report, Mild Hybrid 48V Vehicles 2016-2031 External Link.
No. Others disagree. Nikola Motor Company's electric long-haul rig concept has just been revealed at $350,000 to $415,000. Most of the company's plan relies on its ability to develop its natural gas CNG refuelling stations, which is far from a done deal.
The company is currently only working on the prototype, but it is already taking reservations. They want to create a special lease program for truck drivers for $5,000 a month which would include the lease payment, unlimited miles, unlimited fuel, warranty and maintenance. While it takes 40-60 cents per mile in fuel to operate a diesel semi-truck, the Nikola One is estimated to drive at half that cost - around 20-30 cents per mile.
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Nikola (pronounced Neek-oh-la) Motor Company (NMC), announces that it has designed, engineered and is finalizing assembly of the first-ever, electric-driven class 8 semi-truck, Nikola One, which is capable of pulling a total gross weight of 80,000 pounds and offering more than 1,200 miles between stops.
Little known Nikola Motor Company designs and manufactures electric vehicles, vehicle components, energy storage systems, and electric vehicle drivetrains. It is led by its visionary CEO Trevor Milton, who has assembled one of the most talented teams in the USA to bring the Nikola products to market. The Nikola One has 6×6 all-wheel drive with 800 volt asynchronous motors and regenerative braking at all wheels. Trucks typically have 24V lead acid batteries today and very little electrification. Pure electric vehicles are typically at 200-600V for fairly heavy duty/ high performance. Only a few record breaking and specialist vehicles reach around 800V so Nikola pushes the envelope here too, for greater efficiency, high voltage meaning lighter weight wiring and motors. See the IDTechEx Research report, Future Powertrains 2016-2036 External Link
Its 2000 horsepower compares to the 400-500 hp for most trucks so we have a formidable performance improvement here that could pay back with shortened journey times not least by coping with hills at full load, full speed. It has a tank that holds 150 gallons of compressed natural gas, which powers a gas turbine that charges the huge 320 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. To put that in context, such massive, very expensive lithium-ion batteries have previously only been seen in planned giant mining trucks that Touche recommends should have battery swapping and the largest autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). A few buses approach the figure. The BYD pure electric double decker bus being trialled in London sports a 320kWh lithium-ion battery for 303 km range. See the IDTechEx Research report, Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026 External Link.
As with 48V mild hybrids, drivers would not have to stop to charge: the CNG plus regenerative braking would be able to power the truck for 1200 miles of driving. However, 48V mild hybrids are parallel hybrids with minimal electric drive, if any. This new concept is a series hybrid with electric motors driving the wheels all the time. At each of its six wheels, Nikola One has a 335 horsepower electric motor and a dual gear reduction (6x6). Combined, Nikola One outputs over 2,000 horsepower and over 3,700 ft. lbs. of torque before gear reduction and nearly 86,000 ft. lbs. of instant torque after gear reduction. Six electric motors produce superior horsepower, torque, acceleration, pulling and stopping power over any class 8 truck on the road.
Benefits of removing the diesel engine include a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a larger and more aerodynamic cab and a quieter and more comfortable ride, though as with pure electric large buses, it will not be silent. All that is necessary to make the Nikola One go or stop is the electric pedal and brake pedal (no shifting or clutches).
The proprietary turbine automatically charges the batteries when needed and eliminates the need to ever "plug-in". It produces nearly 400 kW of energy, which provides ample battery power to allow the Nikola One to climb a six percent grade at maximum weight at 65 mph. A typical class 8 diesel truck under similar conditions would have a hard time reaching 35 mph. And going downhill, the Nikola One's six electric motors absorb the braking energy normally lost and deliver it back to the batteries, increasing component life, miles per gallon, safety, and freight efficiencies while eliminating noisy engine brakes and reducing the potential for runaway trucks.
When compared to a typical class 8 diesel, the Nikola One's turbine is much cleaner and more efficient. The turbine is also fuel agnostic, meaning it can run on gasoline, diesel or clean burning natural gas and that could mean dirty fuel too, something discovered by mini turbine maker Bladon Jets. Dirty fuel is common in many developing countries. Wrightspeed already produces medium trucks in the USA with a modified Cummins gas turbine as range extender so the Nikola concept is not as radical as it seems. Safran Microturbo of France is also eying the possibilities. See the IDTechEx Research report, Range Extenders for Electric Vehicles Land, Water & Air 2015-2025" External Link
Nikola One's software controls the speed and torque of each of the six wheels independent of each other at any given moment. That means safer cornering, double the stopping power, improved traction, less tire wear and longer component life over current class 8 trucks something not available with a conventional drivetrain powered by a diesel motor.
100% electric, the Nikola One's design removes heavy class 8 truck parts like the diesel engine, emissions equipment, transmission, drive train and differentials, making it thousands of pounds lighter than the average class 8 truck.
The Nikola One's proprietary hardware and software have compatibility with the future of driverless vehicles. Once testing is complete and government regulations allow, a single Nikola One driver will have the ability to virtually hitch and lead up to five driverless Nikola One trucks through its wireless vehicle network and self-driving technology, as has recently been demonstrated by European truck makers. This technology could solve the driver shortage and increased freight costs facing the long haul transportation industry. Technology advancements like these could triple the income of owner operators and change the income inequality found in the industry between owner operators and fleets.
The IDTechEx take on all this is that fuel cell trucks are the also ran because of highest total cost of ownership and most chronic lack of infrastructure. Pure electric trucks will succeed with various charging regimes but hybrid electric trucks will be preferred for at least 10 years in most countries. This contrasts with large buses where most are made and bought in China under government control favouring pure electric made in China. Reduction of local pollution from the almost entirely urban routes is the prime objective. Trucks are more evenly distributed globally, they are not almost entirely urban and they are bought by independent companies in the main. These seek the minimum expense to meet new regulations and they have profit meaning survival as paramount.
Top image: Nikola Motor Company