Electric trucks are the future if emission targets need to be met

Philippe Perez
By Philippe Perez
Updated March 28 2022 - 11:40pm, first published 11:30pm
GOING ELECTRIC: Janus Electric co-founders Lex Forsyth and Bevan Dooley.

Long-haul transport companies are exploring the opportunities of electric vehicles on the back of skyrocketing fuel prices.

Janus Electric, who only recently launched its road-ready prime mover fully run on battery power in February, has just launched a 12-month Australian trial - Vision Electric - to test electric trucks in harsh conditions, and test exchangeable battery technology.

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Janus Electric co-founder and general manager Lex Forsyth said there was "amazing potential ahead", with truck batteries being able to be dropped off at "change and charge" stations, reducing downtime for drivers on long hauls.

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"Port Augusta, SA, is being developed for our trial along with (mining company) Oz Minerals and (infrastructure company) Qube Bulk on a triple road train that's operating carrying copper concentrate into Whyalla, SA," Mr Forsyth said.

"That will also be available to other carriers and we're looking at having a station in Adelaide.

"Another logging carrier customer in the Mount Gambier, SA, region are doing a conversion too and they are looking to have a depot charge within their facility."

Janus Electric also have sites earmarked for Victoria, Queensland and regional NSW as demand grows.

Mr Forsyth said he was fielding enquiries of up to 10-15 fleets a day from clients in Australia and overseas, while significant agricultural operators in the grain, logging and dairy sectors were showing interest in conversion as well.

"We've got a grain carrier in Dubbo, NSW, who is very keen to have a look at our solution and they're looking at it at a point where they can put their own infrastructure in place with solar to charge the batteries and then open that up as a network for anyone that's participating in in the electrification of their fleet," he said.

He said there was no reason why the long-haul transport industry could not become carbon neutral in a matter of years.

"Most original equipment manufacturers are saying it'll be 2028 before we'll start to see battery electric or hydrogen long-haul vehicles here in Australia," he said.

"We're saying that's not right, you can do it now."

While current fuel prices were a big motivator, Mr Forsyth said the agricultural sector was motivated more by looking at carbon neutral solutions.

TRIALS SET: Janus Electric freigthtliners will look to have batteries that can be dropped off and replaced at stations around regional centres in around four minutes.

Volvo is also undertaking its own trials of electric viability in trucking.

The company recently completed a multi-faceted testing program with their Volvo FL Electric model to see how fast charging and extreme heat could affect range, battery charging and vehicle performance.

Equipped with what the company calls "second-generation battery packs" with a capacity totaling 265 kilowatts, engineers subjected the truck to a series of on-road tests in 35 degree plus heat.

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Loaded to a gross weight of 15,000 kilograms, the FL Electric covered over 730 kilometres in different traffic conditions and terrain including a 6 per cent gradient climb up over the Toowoomba, Qld, bypass.

Volvo strategic projects and communications manager Matt Wood said conditions and weather conditions were important factors to consider if other fuel alternatives were considered by truck companies.

"We've got two (FL Electric vehicles) on the road in Melbourne... both bought out originally as trial units, just to see how they operate in a warm weather climate," Mr Wood said.

"Electric vehicles and batteries are very sensitive to temperature, so we are testing with extreme heat and extreme cold and now they've been put into the service with Linfox [who are] a big customer of ours, and they've also got their own emissions targets as well as Volvo."

Mr Wood said Volvo aimed to have its total line up fossil fuel-free by 2040, but there was more to simply giving customers a cable and telling them to charge at a power point.

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He said a wider offering was needed rather than just offering electric trucks.

"We generally need to sit down with anyone looking to convert on their e-mobility journey and look at things like simulation tools as part of our telematics offering that shows distances, where to charge, and what sort of charging they need, like AC or DC charging," he said.

ECTRIC VIBES: Volvo's first refrigerated FL Electric has hit the road, but is only limited to the Melbourne region for now.

But despite this, Mr Wood said having electric trucks for industries that required long trips, like the agricultural sector, was still "a very long way into the future".

"Some factors like temperature impact and charging, which can be done pretty much through a 15-amp outlet, but that takes quite a while," he said.

"DC charging is quicker, but it requires a lot of effort and you probably need almost a substation in your property to be able to power a 150-watt DC charger."

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Mr Wood said the latter half of this decade would see more heavy duty trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cell which would be an application that would make more sense for Australia.

"At the moment say in Europe, where we're starting to see some heavy duty electric trucks being rolled out, where the average long-haul daily drive in Europe is about 300km in a heavy truck," he said.

"Here in Australia it's 900-1000km and that's where hydrogen fuel cell will most likely come into the picture."

Mr Wood said Volvo was currently in joint venture with Daimler Trucks to also develop hydrogen fuel cells for heavy duty trucks, but admitted battery and hydrogen fuel cell trucks would be expensive for smaller operators.

He agreed with Mr Forsyth that the shift away from fuel would be driven by reducing emissions.

"I think it's important to note this emissions-driven approach - and I know we're talking from a rural perspective - but the smaller trucks will be operating in urban areas and we are looking at better air quality," he said.

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"You'll have quieter trucks that are not putting fumes out and that will spread out to regional areas, but really we are going to have internal combustion engines for the foreseeable future for applications like carting cattle across the outback."

Mr Wood outlined there would be a multifaceted approach towards curbing emissions, with not one silver bullet at the moment, and a multitude of options available down the track.

But Livestock & Rural Transporters Association of Victoria president Russell Borchard said while fuel prices were having an impact, electric vehicles would not suit livestock transportation at the present time.

"My personal opinion is that it's not feasible in the livestock transport industry, or in any rural carrier industry really because of the remoteness of the work we do," Mr Borchard said.

"I can see companies in cities doing other freight might be able to look at alternatives in city areas, but as for the greater transport industry working through regional Victorian areas, I can't see any feasibility."

He believed though "there could be in the future" a need to look at other fuel alternatives outside diesel for livestock transportation, and that state and federal governments should work to make cost-effective solutions, but for now operators didn't have much choice but to pass on costs.

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"It's a matter of developing motors and fuel alternatives that will work and having the supply there when it's needed," he said.

"That's definitely something that governments have to look at more, and I'll be honest, I believe the government have let us down in this country for quite a few years in this department along with many other transportation issues, like fuel costs.

"Fuel prices have made a major impact on our members, and everyone's got to be 100pc over their business costs at the moment and running a fine line with running costs, including spare parts, tires, along with that big hit of fuel."

He said there could be some sectors who would struggle if fuel prices continued to be high, while others could sustain the price jump for the time being.

"Feedlots, abattoirs, or anyone that's buying, stocking and feeding will struggle, but general producers won't have that big of a hit when you look at it at per head price for fuel prices," he said.

"For example, for sheep, for a normal, run-of-the-mill job through Victoria you'd be looking at less than $1 a head, but if you are sending sheep to Tamworth, NSW, you're probably looking at a $2 a head increase, but it depends on what everyone's business is too.

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"Producers are going to look at the big picture regarding transportation at the end of the day."

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