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The feasibility of heavy battery electric trucks

It is generally assumed that heavy battery electric freight trucks are unlikely to play a significant role in decarbonization strategies, due to a number of limitations. However, this article argues that this assumption is incorrect and that, with fast charging technology, the prospect of electrifying these vehicles becomes significantly more realistic.

Björn Nykvist, Olle Olsson / Published on 8 April 2021

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Nykvist, B. and Olsson, O. (2021). The feasibility of heavy battery electric trucks. Joule. DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2021.03.007

Making heavy trucks battery electric is very difficult, especially when it comes to ensuring that their range matches that of diesel trucks. Decarbonizing road freight using heavy battery electric freight trucks is generally found to be of limited feasibility as a means of combating climate change, due to the high costs and low gravimetric specific energy of batteries. Reviews of decarbonization strategies thus generally conclude that, as a result of these technical limitations, heavy battery electric freight trucks are likely to play a rather small role.

The authors of this paper, however, challenge this argument. They posit that, if electric trucks can be fast-charged in the same way as personal electric vehicles, the required range is dramatically reduced and electrification becomes much more realistic.

In this article, they demonstrate that the competitiveness of battery electric trucks compared to diesel trucks can actually improve with larger trucks if fast charging becomes available. They also note that conclusions on electric trucks are sensitive to technology improvements; since battery technology is improving quickly, the assumptions about battery cost and lifetime on which previous findings were based are changing, meaning that the feasibility of heavy battery electric trucks is also changing fast.

With shorter range and more frequent charging, savings from electrification scale faster than the costs of electrification and the negative impact on load capacity do. Focusing analysis on economic competitiveness instead of technical parity indicates that current battery technology is close to a threshold where electric trucks become feasible. Future research and policymaking on how to reduce carbon emission from trucks need to consider battery electric options closer.

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SEI authors

Bjorn Nyqvist
Björn Nykvist

Team Leader: Energy and Industry Transitions; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

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Topics and subtopics
Climate : Mitigation / Energy : Transport / Economy : Innovation
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