Sensibly Navigating To A Clean Future

December 6, 2021

Red truck on highway in Colorado at autumn, USA. Mount Sopris landscape.

There has been a lot of momentum following COP26, which was a global climate summit that brought together people from almost every country to address issues surrounding climate change and actions needed to reduce harmful emissions from all sources.

Transportation is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, so it gets a lot of attention when it comes to climate issues. As we move toward a cleaner transportation future — whether that is CNG, LNG, hybrid diesel electric, battery electric, fuel cell, etc. — the subject of infrastructure always comes up. And, of course, as with any issue, there are many opinions on what needs to be done to develop a fueling infrastructure for alternative fuels. There is also much debate about which one of the clean power sources will “win” the race for clean power for trucking.

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and hype of new technology. But I am confident that as we navigate our way to a greener transportation future that trucking will do what it does best — evaluate all of the technologies and place them in the right duty cycles at the right time. In trucking, we know that it is not an “all or nothing” decision. And we will work together to make sure that the trucks of the future will have access to the fuels they need across the country.

There is also much debate about which one of the clean power sources will “win” the race for clean power for trucking.

It is not too early to look at how alternative fueled vehicles, especially battery-electric ones, fit into a fleet. NACFE’s recently completed Run on Less – Electric proved that there are already several applications where electric vehicles are performing well. Those include vans/step vans, terminal tractors, medium-duty box trucks, and, surprisingly, heavy-duty tractors in certain duty cycles.

We know for sure that battery electric power makes sense in smaller trucks and those that have low miles per shift and return to base each day. For most heavy-duty applications, advanced diesel with fuel efficiency technologies — like aerodynamic devices — added, makes the most sense. Yet, in Run on Less – Electric, Anheuser Busch proved that electric power works on a heavy-duty tractor in a beverage hauling application.

For the other applications each fleet needs to make its own decision on a duty cycle by duty cycle and technology by technology basis. The total cost of operation calculation will be the critical determinant of which technologies a fleet deploys in which applications.

However, more and more fleets are factoring things like driver retention and sustainability into their TCO calculations. The drivers in Run on Less – Electric had high praise for the EVs they were driving citing reduced interior noise, lower exterior noise, better acceleration, ease of charging, no idling emissions and less fatigue as some of the positive attributes of electric vehicles.

More and more fleets are factoring things like driver retention and sustainability into their TCO calculations.

In addition, many businesses are asking fleets about their sustainability efforts and contracts can be lost if a fleet cannot demonstrate its commitment to reducing emissions and engaging in sustainable practices.

We are now at a place in electric truck development where improvements are happening rapidly, and OEMs are moving to full production models. In addition, coalitions of stakeholders are working together to try to solve the infrastructure issue, as well as working on standards that will remove some of the uncertainty especially surrounding state of charge.

COP26 and other events and developments have shown that now is the time for trucking to step up and do its part to reduce harmful emissions and move toward a cleaner future. Each fleet must make its own decision on which technologies are right for it and should be prepared — at least in the short term — to have multiple fuel sources in its trucks because that is what will make the most sense. The trucking industry has a long history of doing what makes sense and therefore should be able to navigate to a clean future successfully.