Berkeley Lab finds commercial trucking is capable of electrification

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RL Gonzalez/Creative Commons
UC Berkeley researchers found that not only is electrifying trucks a possibility, but it could offer a cost-effective energy supply for the commercial trucking sector. order_242 from Chile, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Commercial trucking is capable of undergoing major electrification, a recent study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found.

The researchers determined that not only is electrifying regional and long-haul trucks a possibility, but it could offer a cost-effective energy supply for the commercial trucking sector. They also found that electrification could aid efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Study co-author and Berkeley Lab researcher Nikit Abhyankar said the current feasibility of electrifying the trucking industry is a result of improvements to battery technology over the past decade. One of these improvements is the decreased cost in batteries overall, Abhyankar added. 

The study particularly focused on the economic favorability of electrifying commercial trucking, according to Abhyankar. He noted that it is particularly promising since batteries were previously considered financially unfavorable compared to diesel fuel options.

Instead of increasing costs, however, Abhyankar said the study found switching to electrified trucking would be cheaper than fossil fuel in the long term.

“If you look at the lifetime cost of an electric truck, it is actually 13% lower than the lifetime cost of a diesel truck,” Abhyankar said. “It ends up saving the truck owner about $200,000.”

Despite overall savings, however, truck owners would have to accept higher upfront costs to purchase the electric vehicles, according to Abhyankar. Electrifying commercial trucking is also important given the global climate crisis, Abhyankar noted.

Heavy-duty trucks are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions. Electrifying trucking would reduce the carbon output from the United States significantly and mitigate greenhouse gas-related health concerns, according to Abhyankar.

“Heavy-duty trucks are responsible for a significant number of pollution-related health damage in the U.S.,” Abhyankar said, citing increased premature morbidity and mortality from high-exposure. “Those risks are disproportionately borne by people of color and low-income communities.”

Other countries, including China and those in Europe, have begun adopting electrified commercial trucking, according to Abhayankar. He added that he hopes this study will help inform “broader opinion” about electrification in the private trucking industry.

Still, Abhyankar said the study’s findings have presented questions for future research to build on, including how to create an electrical grid capable of supporting electrified freight lines and providing charging stations for electric trucks.

UC Berkeley professor and energy researcher Daniel Kammen said he did not find the results surprising. He also pointed to the study’s findings as evidence of a larger, global trend toward transport electrification.

With such findings, Kammen said phasing out fossil fuels is becoming easier than previously thought.

“Electrified vehicles are just simply much cheaper to own and operate,” Kammen said. “And it means that the path to zero carbon is just further clarified.”

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.