Are Electric Trucks Next? Electric Vehicles Get Heavy

Electric cars are on the road now, electric trucks are coming…but may not be what we expect

By Robin Rowe

Nikola One Electric Truck Prototype

Nikola One Electric Truck Prototype

HOLLYWOOD, CA (Gosh!TV) 2016/8/21 – Tesla is building a huge electic vehicle battery factory in Nevada. Chris Uhrman left Alphabet/Google autonomous cars to form the autonomous truck company Otto, Are traditional truck companies like Freightliner about to be overwhelmed by electric truck start-ups like Nicola? Maybe.

While lithium batteries in operation are a clean technology. Lithium mining is dirty. With most of the world’s lithium reserve under a desert in Bolivia, whether the lithium supply can meet the world demand is a big question. Toyota is increasing lithium battery production 6x to introduce the technology into the Prius, which so far powers most of its hybrid vehicles with nickel hydride.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid has lithium batteries

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid has lithium batteries

Even though start-ups have focused on electrics, hybrid flywheel and even steam are alternative possibilities. Volvo is researching flywheels as a hybrid. Flywheels can be mechanical or electrical. FES (Flywheel Energy Systems) as high-power generators are common in particle accelerators, such as Argonne.

Steam is interesting for trucks because of the fantastic torque it offers. The Stanley Steamer has so much torque at all engine speeds that the steam car’s engine is geared 1:1 to the rear axle, no clutch or transmission required. Bill Lear, of Learjet fame, liked steam. He designed a steam race car to compete in the Indy 500 and a steam-powered GMC bus.

 

Stanley Steamer

Stanley Steamer

Maybe electric is the answer. Electric vehicles have been in development longer than you may realize. My great-grandmother owned an electric vehicle, a Franklin circa 1910.

Electric truck research funded by ARB has been motivated as pollution abatement of drayage trucks. That is, for short-haul trucks that serve docks, such as the Port of Los Angeles. In theory, short-haul trucks could build upon lessons learned making electric and CNG fork lifts. Short-haul trucks seem easier than solving the electric vehicle range problem in long-haul trucks.

The state of California has awarded $24M for a zero-emission drayage truck demonstration project with BYD, Kenworth, Peterbilt and Volvo.

Toyota Electric Forklift

Toyota Electric Forklift

A recent rechargeable battery technology breakthrough at UCI looks promising.

An area of research potentially more practical as a large scale battery technology than lithium may be organic batteries inspired by the electrogenics of electric eels.

Whether your truck is powered by laptop batteries, flywheels, steam or even eels, trucks of the future will never be the same.

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