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Electricity is cheaper than diesel for heavy goods vehicles

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In the past, electrifying heavy goods vehicles that transport cargo over long distances was considered unprofitable. But now researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have shown that running heavy goods vehicles on electricity can be cheaper than on diesel.
‘I myself am surprised by the results and hope that more haulage companies and heavy goods vehicle manufacturers will be willing to invest in electrification now that we have shown it can be cost-effective,’ says Johannes Karlsson, Doctoral student in Automated Control Engineering at Chalmers.

In the past, electrifying heavy goods vehicles that transport cargo over long distances was considered unprofitable. But now researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have shown that running heavy goods vehicles on electricity can be cheaper than on diesel.
‘I myself am surprised by the results and hope that more haulage companies and heavy goods vehicle manufacturers will be willing to invest in electrification now that we have shown it can be cost-effective,’ says Johannes Karlsson, Doctoral student in Automated Control Engineering at Chalmers.

The transition from a fleet of fossil-fuel vehicles to electric vehicles has so far been most visible in lighter vehicles, such as personal cars and delivery vans. In the case of long-distance heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), the transition is slow due to the common notion that the vehicle requires large batteries, which use up so much load capacity that electric operation is unprofitable. But now researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have found that electricity can indeed be a cheaper alternative to diesel – even for heavy goods vehicles.

“We have seen a scenario where heavy goods vehicles traveled 553 kilometers between Helsingborg and Stockholm in Sweden. We’ve compared two different battery sizes and two possible prices for fast charging. Our conclusion is that it seems possible to electrify this type of vehicle in a cost-effective way,” said Johannes Karlsson.

Studies based on real world data
In the study, the researchers built a model based on data from a real haulage company in the city of Helsingborg, which was chosen because it can be considered to have typical operating tasks and conditions for a haulage company in a part of Sweden that covers long distances. . Big batteries don’t need to be recharged on the road, only at the company’s own depots, but they do eat up more charge capacity. The smaller battery requires fast charging on the road but doesn’t limit load capacity as much. The results of this research show that using electricity is profitable for the transportation companies in this study.

“With the right battery size it should in many cases be possible to electrify a heavy goods vehicle so that the cost is the same or lower than if it were driven by a diesel engine. The best battery size is determined by whether it is light cargo being transported, such as parcels or vegetables, or heavy cargo, such as drinks or wood. Other important factors that influence the choice of battery size are driving patterns and the price of fast charging. A realistic future scenario is that HGVs will have different battery sizes,” said Johannes Karlsson.

Investing in batteries and charging equipment costs money. For this investment to be worthwhile, researchers have shown in previous studies that an electric HGV battery needs to be charged and discharged at least 1,400 times, which is something that most commercial vehicles exceed in their lifetime.

Hoping to speed up the transition
Such a study by Johannes Karlsson and colleague Anders Grauers is unusual. In the past, the electrification of heavy goods vehicles has primarily seen scenarios where HGVs are moving and being charged within a restricted area, such as a port. The Chalmers researchers now hope their results will accelerate the transition from diesel to electric in heavy goods vehicle transportation.

“We have shown that a fleet of heavy goods vehicles can be electrified in a cost-effective way. This should lead to companies that have incentives to invest in the transition. Financial incentives usually mean that changes can be made quickly, and our research is realistic for many transport operations,” said Anders Grauers, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Chalmers.

More about studies:
Solar costs €1.20 per liter and fast charging costs €0.17 per kilowatt hour or, alternatively, €0.40 per kilowatt hour. Prices shown do not include VAT. Otherwise, the researchers assume that costs such as maintenance are the same for HGVs regardless of whether the HGV runs on electricity or diesel.

The model used in this study is based on data from freight companies with realistic conditions and assignments. Although the researchers assumed a low price of diesel, the study concluded it is profitable for a freight company to electrify its fleet of HGVs, with the exception of vehicles that are mostly loaded to the maximum permitted weight.

The study, ‘Case Study of Long-distance Truck Cost-Effective Electrification’, is published in the journal Energy and written by Johannes Karlsson and Anders Grauers. The researchers work at Chalmers University of Technology.

This research was conducted in collaboration with the Swedish Transport Administration and Volvo Trucks and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration.

For further information please contact:

Johannes Karlsson, Doctoral student, Automatic Control Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, (email protected) +46 31 772 40 34

Anders Grauers, Associate Professor, Automatic Control Engineering, Department of Electrical Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, (email protected) +46 31 772 37 29


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