Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers tried to make the case for prioritizing public policy to help move long-haul trucking from diesel to electric. The leading payoffs are being described as having huge gains in addressing the climate crisis and avoiding premature deaths due to local vehicular pollution, which disproportionately affects communities of color. Truck transport of goods is a large component of the diesel fuel market. But a Google search isn’t turning up prior studies to connect vehicular pollution to communities of color. And yet, since the 1960s the pollution matter has improved greatly, indeed.

Meanwhile, when it comes to electric vehicles, particularly for heavy-duty trucks, the limitations of battery technology are often seen as the main barrier to widespread adoption. However, a new analysis concludes that it’s the lack of appropriate policies around adoption incentives, charging infrastructure, and electricity pricing that prevents widespread electrification of commercial trucking fleets.

The prototype Tesla semi truck. Image Credit: Tesla. Click image for the largest view.

Researchers from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California, Los Angeles published a new study that makes the case for prioritizing public policy to help move long-haul trucking from diesel to electric. The study analyzes the total cost of ownership of an electric long-haul truck compared to a diesel long-haul truck. Using the current price of a battery pack and assuming a 375-mile range, the researchers found that an electric long-haul truck has a 13% per mile lower total cost of ownership, with a net savings of $200,000 over the lifetime of the electric truck. The total cost of ownership analysis takes into account the purchase price and operating costs over the lifetime of the truck.

The researchers also showed that future reductions in battery costs – taken together with a more aerodynamic design and monetized benefits of reduced pollution – would result in a 50% per mile lower total cost of ownership compared to a diesel long-haul truck by 2030. The electrification of long-haul trucks therefore is possible, and figuring out what is required to move the nation’s trucking fleet to widely adopt electric trucks is the next step, the authors said.

Berkeley Lab Research Scientist Nikit Abhyankar, one of the authors of the study said, “Given the massive economic and environmental benefits, the case for long-haul electric trucking is stronger than ever before. Enabling policies such as adoption and charging infrastructure incentives, sales mandates, and cost-reflective electricity pricing are crucial.”

Electric cars are becoming more prevalent now, with a substantial increase in global sales and commitments from several major auto manufacturers, including General Motors and Volvo, to sell only electric vehicles by 2030-2035. Long-haul trucks have not experienced the same level of growth, yet they are diesel-fuel guzzlers and a major source of air pollution, contributing more than 20% of U.S. transportation-sector greenhouse gas emissions.

Berkeley Lab scientists have done extensive research tracking the impact of diesel trucks on air quality and public health in disadvantaged communities. Even though diesel trucks account for just a small fraction of motor vehicles, they are responsible for almost one-third of motor vehicle CO2 emissions. The transportation sector was the largest contributor of CO2 emissions associated with the US economy.

Berkeley Lab Staff Scientist Amol Phadke, lead author on this study said, “If we can move away from diesel-dependent heavy-duty vehicles, we have a chance at significantly reducing greenhouse gas and particulate emissions from the transportation sector.”

There are currently two main pathways to electrify trucks – fuel cells and batteries – and both are actively being pursued by researchers at Berkeley Lab. Long-haul trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells are on the horizon, and Berkeley Lab scientists are playing a leading role in a new DOE consortium called the Million Mile Fuel Cell Truck (M2FCT) to advance this technology. Battery-powered electric trucks have seen the most dramatic improvements in technology in recent years, making the battery costs more affordable and competitive.

The researchers also assert that electricity from renewable energy sources is becoming more cost-competitive, and Berkeley Lab researchers have shown that decarbonizing the electric grid is feasible in the coming decades, which means electric long-haul trucks would no longer contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Phadke added, “It is exciting to see recent dramatic improvements in battery technology and costs. Electric trucks can generate significant financial savings for truck owners and fleet operators, while enabling inflation-proof freight transportation that can have significant macroeconomic benefits.”


The number of problems in this field are substantial. First is this is only a press release, no peer reviewed study paper link is listed. No link is offered to see the work of the Berkeley Lab research into air quality in disadvantaged communities. After waiting a month, your humble writer still has no links. If anyone knows or finds the links, please post it/them in the comments.

At the basic level, an electric automobile might carry 4 people and belongings – say 1,000 pounds. The car might weigh 3,200 pounds totaling 4,000 pounds. The payload would be 25%. A good quality over the road truck could gross weigh at 80,000 pounds and the payload could be as much as 60,000 pounds. The payload would be 75%. Whatever numbers are plugged in, the situations are very very different indeed.

A reality check offers right off – storing the hydrogen. A truck would need quite a large storage vessel and so far the storage issue is very much – not resolved. While things are looking quite good for oncoming fuel cells, carrying hydrogen along remains an unresolved matter.

Then there is the battery weight issue. Batteries make up quite a lot of the weight when used in vehicles. Trucking is about getting those pounds ‘there’ at the lowest cost. Carving out 10 or 15% of the payload for batteries is going to greatly change the calculations.

A hydrogen storage breakthrough is needed. Its a field watched closely by many. Hope abounds, expectations are high and the research field is simply – quiet. Be patient, it could be a very long wait.

Lastly is the alarm raised in paragraph five above. “incentives, mandates, and pricing” are all listed. After a year of the Covid driven government intrusions, these are quite worrisome ideas. Add those to the EV battery fire issues bedeviling fire fighters now.

On the other hand, short haul buses and localized delivery trucks may very well be practical soon. Low speeds and short distances change the dynamics for charge ups and fuel quantities greatly. After all, urban areas are where the big numbers of disadvantaged communities and high density pollution are located. And Elon Musk is working on it.


2 Comments so far

  1. Amusement rides on April 21, 2021 1:57 AM

    very nice… i really like your blog. Very useful informations.

  2. Jagdish on April 22, 2021 11:48 PM

    Aluminium air batteries developed seem to be the best and cost effective solution of power for electric drive vehicles. It is also less fire prone.

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