Electric trucks are one of the greatest advances in urban logistics in recent years. These freight vehicles are powered by one or more electric motors, a system which reduces the carbon footprint by not emitting greenhouse gases.
In a world where businesses are striving to lessen the environmental impact of their operations, electric trucks could help to achieve a more sustainable supply chain.
According to the report The dawn of electrified trucking by consulting firm PwC, the use of electric trucks will become widespread in the coming years. “Electrically powered trucks will largely replace conventional trucks in large parts of the world within the next 15 years. As early as 2030, zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) powered by batteries or fuel cells will account for one-third of all trucks in Europe, North America and Greater China.” The study points to factors that will spur the growth of electric trucks in the coming years: “By 2035, their share in these markets will rise to around 70%. The change is being accelerated by increasingly strict regulatory requirements and simultaneously decreasing total cost of ownership (TCO) for ZEVs.”
Nevertheless, as electric trucks are an emerging technology, they raise many questions: How autonomous are they? How much energy do they consume? How long does the battery last?
Tesla is developing its Semi, an electric truck with three motors that allow it to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 20 seconds. It consumes less than 2 kWh per mile, so it can travel around 500 mi on a single charge and recover up to 70% of its energy in just 30 minutes of charging. Meanwhile, German company DHL is currently working on the StreetScooter range, electric delivery vans designed to lower carbon emissions in urban areas. Capable of carrying loads of up to approximately 800 kg and reaching a maximum speed of 120 km/h, the vans have an autonomy of up to 500 km.
Electric truck applications in logistics
The transport industry is moving towards electric trucks to improve efficiency in goods deliveries. The evolution of batteries and the new generation of motors could encourage the use of electric vehicles in urban logistics to transport orders to physical points of sale or home addresses. Last-mile delivery, one of the costliest and most polluting stages in the supply chain, could be optimised with electric trucks. By not using fossil fuels, these vehicles can reduce logistics costs and thus the weight of transport on the sale price of products.
The consolidation of ecommerce has increased not only home deliveries but also vehicle traffic in big cities as a result of reverse logistics. Today, many trucks with combustion engines drive in urban areas to deliver goods to customers, pick up returns and take them back to the warehouse. Electric trucks would bring down the costs of these trips and enable businesses to implement more sustainable logistics strategies.
Advantages and disadvantages of electric trucks
Electric trucks are gaining ground in the market and companies could benefit from them in several ways:
- Energy efficiency. Electric trucks are more efficient than vehicles with internal combustion engines. They use 15-20% less energy when braking or idling, a huge difference compared to the 64-75% of energy consumed by petrol engines.
- Respect for the environment. Electric vehicles don’t emit polluting gases through exhaust pipes. With lower CO2 emissions, using electric trucks in logistics would reduce the transport industry’s carbon footprint and improve air quality in cities.
- Lower energy costs. With surging petrol and diesel prices, swapping vehicles with internal combustion engines for their electric alternatives is a viable option for driving down costs. Even if the price per kilowatt-hour also rises, electric trucks will always be more cost-effective than fossil-fuel vehicles.
- Less maintenance. Vehicles with electric motors require less maintenance: they don’t require oil changes, coolant, or engine filters. For proper maintenance of electric trucks, all you need is a thorough check of the condition of the batteries and the other elements common to all vehicles, (e.g., brakes and tires).
- Tax benefits. More and more governments are committed to reducing their countries’ carbon footprint. Therefore, they promote laws that favor the replacement of internal combustion vehicles with electric motors. Many countries promote legislation that offers tax credits to organisations and individuals who opt for this type of vehicle.
However, as this technology is still fairly new, electric trucks still have a high price tag that’s not accessible to all businesses. Additionally, more charging points are needed to serve electric road transport vehicles.
Electric trucks: the future of logistics?
When the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed in 2015, transport and logistics generated 23% of greenhouse gases worldwide. To mitigate the effect of transport on the environment, that same year, the UN published The Paris declaration on electro-mobility and climate change & call to action, a report indicating the need for partners to “commit to broaden their efforts and call for a decisive joint effort towards sustainable transport electrification — including that at least 20% of all road vehicles (cars, 2 and 3-wheelers, trucks, buses and others) are to be electrically powered by 2030.”
In recent years, technology advances have made electric vehicles an increasingly plausible option for boosting efficiency in goods transport. The research article Freight distribution with electric vehicles: A case study in Sicily points to the benefits of implementing electric vehicles in internal goods transport as well as external transport: “The most valued opportunities to reduce the negative effects of freight delivery (the goal of EU policy is CO2-free urban logistics by 2030) regards both the use of electric vehicles to perform the distribution and the introduction of distribution centres that encourage the use of light commercial vehicles.”
But the study also notes the organisational and operational challenges of employing electric trucks: “In order to avoid the delocalisation of polluting emissions, it is necessary that the production of electricity related to the new needs comes from renewable sources preferably distributed throughout the territory.”
The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) promotes the use of electric combustion vehicles to transport goods. The organisation sets out some of the key aspects of this technology: “The rapid pace of battery energy density improvement will spur increases in CBEV [commercial battery electric vehicle] efficiency that likely cannot be matched by evolutionary changes to the internal combustion engines. … The transition in specific market segments will be drawn out over decades, sharing space with traditional petrol, diesel and other alternative-fuel powertrains and also competing with other emerging technologies like fuel cells and hybrids.”
The NACFE also shares its perspective on the future of logistics: “Thus, mixed fleets (including diesel, natural gas, hybrid and CBEV products) optimised for specific routes and duty cycles will likely be the norm through 2050.”
Electric trucks: a more sustainable future
Electric trucks are groundbreaking technology that could scale up efficiency in freight transport and help to make logistics services more sustainable.
In addition to relying on electric vehicles, companies can apply other measures to achieve a sustainable future. For example, they can develop local delivery networks with micro-fulfilment centres or implement automated storage systems to ensure quick, error-free delivery.
At Mecalux, we develop innovative technological solutions to optimise companies’ logistics processes. Get in touch so we can help you make your logistics operations more sustainable.