Eco-conscious fleet managers or owners now may be thinking about what they should do to be more environmentally friendly.
Should they electrify their vehicles? What should they do to decarbonize transportation and logistics?
Among those questions, one that will come up when planning a decarbonization strategy can be the hardest one to answer.
“Can the drivers ‘refuel’ the trucks on a regular basis, regardless of their anticipated operating range or duty cycle?”
Because of this question, Pilot is trying to provide options for its customers who are mostly truck or fleet drivers. Pilot is one of the largest networks of truck stops and travel centers across North America.
The energy transition team at Pilot want to include compressed natural gas and hydrogen fuel delivery, biodiesel and charging stations for electric trucks. To do this, they’ve made collaborations, including Volvo Group.
Bill Zobel, the head of their alternative fuels strategy, pointed out that it’s taking its cue from customers.
“Some fleets want to talk about what is available today, so they can apply it to their customers now. Others will wait because they don’t want to deal with two transitions,” Zobel said.
To be (electric) or not to be
There’s still a dilemma of switching to other types of energy for the fleet, including electric trucks. Some say yes, some say no.
However, industry experts have concluded that commercial fleets in the future will have a mix of different fuels. Whatever the energy will be, they’ll step away from the current diesel standard.
There are some things that fleet managers should remember when they aim to decarbonize. To make it work, one must match the vehicle to the job it does and the route it takes.
The longer the route is, then the challenge will be bigger.
So, it’s important to prioritize the right refueling locations. As an example, FedEx Express is leading the way by electrifying its short-haul routes and exploring hydrogen for extended ranges.
Are more electric buses and trucks needed?
Road transportation is responsible for 16% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. Other than its negative impacts to the environment, it also poses health risks caused by its pollutants.
We know that now, vehicle companies have produced more electric vehicles. And due to the increasing demand, EVs have become more affordable. Moreover, they now have better ranges, with an expanding network of charging stations.
The outlook is bright, and it suggests an easy solution to switch to an eco-friendlier lifestyle: just go electric!
And that’s why the prospect of an electric fleet has made its way to fleet owners and managers. If it’s good for cars, then it’s good for bigger vehicles, right?
Well, according to researchers, there may be a slight issue with electric cars.
Electric cars and battery
According to experts, EVs aren’t flawless. They still generate air pollution and greenhouse gases from brakes, tires, electricity production, and manufacturing.
Even if we tackled or overlooked these issues, there would be a more significant challenge for personal EVs.
In 2019, the world manufactured about 160 gigawatt hours (GWh) of lithium-ion batteries.
Even though that sounds like a lot, it’s only sufficient for just over three million standard-range Tesla Model 3s. That number doesn’t include smartphones, laptops, and energy storage.
Battery production is projected to churn out the equivalent of 40 million electric vehicles yearly by 2028. It’s impressive, because in 2019 alone, nearly 100 million cars, vans, buses, and trucks hit the road.
With around 1.4 billion vehicles globally, the numbers will keep surging unless we change our transportation habits.
Even with maximum battery production by 2028, it will take 35 years to replace the entire global vehicle fleet with electric models. That, according to experts, is not nearly quick enough to improve climate change.
Looking at these hurdles, experts say that electrifying all transport isn’t feasible in the necessary timeframe to battle climate change.
For personal lifestyle changes, some journeys will need decarbonization through alternatives like cycling, walking, public transit, or telecommuting.
So, the experts believe that lithium-ion batteries should power vehicles built for long distances. Vehicles like heavy cargo, like garbage trucks, buses, and workhorse pickup trucks are ideal to go electric.
As for personal EVs, experts suggest that it may not make a big change. Instead, biking or taking the city bus is better. Just leave the heavy-duty tasks to heavy-duty EVs.
Commercial electric vehicles
According to experts, focusing on electrifying commercial vehicles comes with benefits.
For one, a lot of these vehicles still run on diesel, as mentioned. Diesel can pump out 100 times more pollution particles than gasoline vehicles.
Secondly, according to the World Health Organization, diesel vehicles were responsible for about 83% pollution-related deaths from road vehicles in 2015.
Thirdly, diesel freight vehicles are often noisy, adding noise pollution. This problem can be solved with electric power, experts say.
Then, experts believe that there will be more electric buses and trucks, as more companies have started producing commercial EVs. For instance, Winnipeg-based New Flyer has successfully supplied electric transit buses to major American cities.
The bottom line is, to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, we just need fewer cars and more electric trucks.
Considerations for decarbonization efforts
“Okay, I’m confused. Should my fleet go electric or not then?”
Now, to revolutionize a fleet’s emissions, powering up the vehicles is just one type of consideration. Not everything should be electrified; remember, everything has different perks and issues that come with it.
But to decarbonize the current fleet, there are some other things that fleet managers can take into account.
- Efficiency Optimization.
Before diving into alternative fuels (including electricity), make sure to squeeze every drop of efficiency from your existing networks. Telematics systems can help by suggesting optimal speeds and routes. And, lighter or more aerodynamic trucks can reduce emissions, no matter what the fuel is.
- Travel Distance.
Electric semi-trucks, designed for long hauls, often max out at roughly 500 miles. That’s where hydrogen fuel cells or hydrogen-electric hybrids come into play. As we know, hydrogen has its perks. Unfortunately, making it green hasn’t been the easiest.
Unleash the creative mind and do some experimentation. Test out different vehicle types and understand how the vehicles work during the day. Who knows? Maybe a mid-shift charging pit stop could make all the difference.
- Total Cost of Ownership.
Ultimately, the decisions will come down to money. It’s wise to weigh the benefits against the expenses. For instance, solar panels might sound great for extending range, but their weight could limit your cargo. It boils down to finding the sweet spot of making money while reducing environmental impact.
During this modern, green revolution, changing up the fleet is a little bit of trial and error.
It’s a journey filled with choices, experiments, and trade-offs as you steer towards a cleaner, more sustainable future.