From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published February 7, 2012 09:29 AM

The Future of Trucking is Electric

Trucking has become the most common mode for transporting goods across the land. However, all those trucks on the road burning diesel fuel can create a great deal of air pollution. Plus, higher gas prices cause increases in the prices of goods. Now is the time to consider the next era of trucking, the electric truck. At the moment, they cost about three times more than the internal combustion engine truck. However, a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows that a fleet of electric trucks can actually be more cost effective than the standard diesel fleet.

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Researchers from MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics found that the operating costs of electric vehicles can be 9 to 12 percent less that standard diesel trucks. This is only when the delivery trucks are used daily in a big city.

According to co-author, Jarrod Goentzel, at this moment, an electric truck fleet is not for every company. "There has to be a good business case if there is going to be more adoption of electric vehicles. We think it's already a viable economic model, and as battery costs continue to drop, the case will only get better."

To conduct the study, the MIT researchers collected data from office supplier, Staples, and ISO New England, the nonprofit firm that operates New England's power grid. They generated a model for a fleet of 250 delivery trucks. Three scenarios were examined, each with different truck engines: electric, hybrid gas-electric, and diesel engines.

According to the Staples data, their diesel engines average 10.14 miles per gallon. Hybrid gas-electric got 11.56 miles per gallon, and electric trucks average 0.8 kilowatt-hours per mile. The electric vehicles could be plugged in overnight to a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) system. The truck batteries would then be used to produce reliable power for the grid overnight, for which they could be compensated by the local utility company.

With diesel costing $4 per gallon, the MIT team ran the numbers to see where they stood. For the diesel fleet, the costs are about 75 cents per mile. For an electric fleet enabled with V2G, the costs are about 68 cents per mile. This is because each electric truck can make roughly $900 to $1,400 per year by selling their excess power to the grid.

Staples currently has 68 electric delivery trucks in its fleet. These vehicles are relatively new so it is still too early to deliver a post-deployment conclusion according to Michael Payette, director of fleet equipment at Staples. Mr. Payette commented on the performance of the electric trucks, noting there were "no real surprises from a reliability perspective, but I was surprised by the drivers' acceptance, to the point where they do not ever want to drive a diesel [truck] again."

The MIT team believe that almost every deliver truck in an urban fleet is a viable candidate to be electric. This is only true for urban fleets because the electric motors simply don't have enough range to operate on the interstates or in the countryside.

The MIT report was delivered at the January 2012 IEEE PES Innovative Smart Grid Technologies Conference in Washington, D.C.

For more information: http://www.ieee-isgt.org/

Image shows a Staples electric delivery truck. Image credit: Smith Electric Vehicles

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