Trucks are the backbone – the very lifeblood – of our economy. You only have to look as far as an interstate to see all the commercial trucks rolling by –coast-to-coast, day and night, 365 days a year.
Today, there are over 2 million semi-trucks on the road. A “semi” means the truck has two parts, the tractor or cab, and a trailer. They haul practically everything you need to survive – food, medicine, beverages, chemicals, perishable items, appliances, electronics, lumber, cars, plus a wide variety of raw materials and goods to individuals and businesses. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not rely on a commercial truck to transport their goods.
97% of the commercial trucks today run on diesel gas simply because it is more efficient than gasoline, and more convenient and inexpensive than electric. Diesel produces more energy per drop than gasoline upon combustion, and more than half of these trucks are powered by advanced diesel technology, or “clean diesel.”
Clean diesel is a type of fuel that is highly refined to improve combustion efficiency and reduce harmful emissions. It is refined to significantly reduce the amount of sulfur found in fuel.
But clean diesel is still a fossil fuel and, according to the United Nations, fossil fuels are the largest contributors to global climate change, accounting for over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions.
How Trucks Impact Climate Change
While commercial trucks make up only about 5% of vehicles on U.S. roads, they are responsible for nearly half of the nitrogen oxide emissions and nearly 60% of the harmful particulates from all vehicles.
It is estimated that at the end of 2022, there were only about 2,000 heavy-duty electric vehicles registered in America. And if you are determined to solve this piece of the climate change puzzle, like the state of California has, there are many bumps in the road.
Current Problems With Electric Trucks
According to the American Trucking Organization, a new, clean-diesel long-haul truck typically costs around $180,000. A comparable battery-electric truck costs up to $480,000. That’s about a $300,000 difference – and far too expensive for the majority of truckers. More than 95% of trucking companies operate with ten trucks or less.
Today, a clean diesel truck can spend 15 minutes fueling anywhere in the country and then travel about 1,200 miles before refueling. In contrast, today’s long-haul battery-electric trucks have a range of about 150-330 miles and can take up to 10 hours to charge.
Weight factors are another problem. Electric trucks, which run on two 8,000-lb. lithium-ion batteries are far heavier than their clean-diesel counterparts. Since trucks are subject to strict federal weight limits, mandating battery-electric transportation will decrease the payload of each truck, putting more trucks on the road and increasing traffic congestion.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that American and European electric truck makers rely heavily on Chinese battery makers. China dominates the lithium iron phosphate (LFP) market, so it produces the vast majority of batteries for trucks. Truck makers in the U.S. and Europe are slow to catch up – they have just begun to build or are announcing investments in new production facilities for heavy-duty battery packs.
California Goes All-Electric
With more intense heat waves, droughts, and wildfires, it’s clear that California is experiencing the impacts of climate change. In 2022, the fifth-largest economy in the world issued a rule that bans the sale of all new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. This includes semi-trucks and experts in the trucking industry say this timeline is both unrealistic and fraught with problems.
Complying with these mandates will put many truck companies out of business as well as add to supply chain problems and higher inflation for all goods.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently said it is granting California the legal authority to require that half of all heavy-duty truck sales in the state must be fully electric by 2035. So, that’s not as bad as all commercial trucks, but it’s still an ambitious goal.
Volvo Is Leading The Charge
In North America, nearly half of the all-electric trucks registered in 2022 were Volvos. In Europe, Volvo is the market leader with a 32% share. Volvo says that their heavy-duty electric trucks can run 12 hours a day, with one charging stop along the way.
Although Tesla released the Tesla Semi in 2022, the long-awaited electric truck has been subject to supply chain disruptions that have hindered production progress.
Electric trucks will become commonplace, but there are still many hurdles to overcome – plus they cause much less overall greenhouse emissions than private jets or superyachts. (We will discuss this in another article.) Heavy-duty electric vehicles will help fight climate change eventually, but not immediately.