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Each electric semi-trailer in a graph

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Electric tractor-trailers are coming, and they could help decarbonize the transportation and logistics industry. However, range remains a major limitation.

This presents challenges for long hauls, where the average diesel tractor-trailer can travel up to 2,000 miles before refueling. Compare that to the longer-range electric model, the Tesla Semi, which promises up to 500 miles. A key word here is ‘promises’ – the Semi is still in development and nothing has been proven yet.

In this infographic, we’ve listed all of the upcoming electric tractor-trailers, along with range and charging time estimates. Later in the article, we’ll explore potential commercial use cases for this first generation of trucks.

Presentation of the model

The following table includes all the models included in the infographic above.

Company Truck name Interval Loading time Expected Delivery
🇺🇸 Tesla Semi 300-500 miles To be determined 2023
🇺🇸 Freightliner eCascadia 250 miles 80% in as little as 1.5 hours 2022
🇸🇪 Volvo Electric NRV 275 miles 80% in as little as 1 hour 2022
🇺🇸 Kenworth T680E 150 miles 100% in as little as 3.3 hours To be determined
🇺🇸 Peterbilt 579EV 150 miles 100% in as little as 3.3 hours 2022
🇨🇳 BYD 8TT 167 miles 100% in as little as 2.5 hours In operation
🇺🇸 Nikola Tre BEV 350 miles 10% to 80% in as little as 2 hours 2022

Source: US News, CNBC, InsideEVs

With the exception of Tesla’s Semi, all of these trucks are currently in service or expected to start delivering this year. You might want to take this with a grain of salt, as the EV industry has become notorious for lags.

In terms of interval, Tesla and Nikola promise the highest numbers (over 300 miles), while the rest of the competition aim for between 150 and 275 miles. It is reasonable to assume that Tesla and Nikola semiconductors will be the most expensive.

Loading time are difficult to compare because of the variables involved. This includes the amount of charge and the type of charger used. Nikola, for example, claims that it will take 2 hours to charge his Tre BEV from 10% to 80% with a 240 kW charger.

Charger technology is also improving rapidly. Tesla is believed to be rolling out a 1 MW (1,000 kW) charger that could add 400 miles of range in just 30 minutes.

Use cases of electric semi-trailers

Given their relatively low range, electric semi-trailers are unlikely to be used for long journeys.

Instead, they should be deployed on regional and urban roads, where the total distance traveled between destinations is much lower. There are many reasons why electric semi-trailers are suitable for these routes, as listed below:

  • Smaller batteries can be fitted, reducing the cost of the truck
  • Urban routes offer greater opportunities to use regenerative braking
  • Quieter and cleaner operation in densely populated areas

An example of a regional route would be the delivery of containers from the Port of Los Angeles to the Los Angeles Transportation Center (LATC) intermodal facility. The LATC is where containers are loaded onto trains and is located approximately 28 miles away.

With a round trip totaling nearly 60 milesa semi-electric with a range of 200 miles could possibly complete this route three times before needing a charge. The truck could be recharged overnight, as well as during off-peak hours in the middle of the day.

Hydrogen for long journeys?

We’ve covered the differences between battery and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the past, but that was from a passenger car perspective. The conclusion, in this case, was that the electric battery has become the dominant technology. In terms of long-haul trucking, however, hydrogen may have an advantage.

If we look at what will become mainstream, it will probably be electric vehicles for small mobility and fuel cells for larger mobility. That’s the conclusion so far.
-Toshihiro Mibe, CEO, Honda

There are several reasons why hydrogen could be beneficial for the delivery of heavy goods over long distances. These are listed below:

  • Refueling a hydrogen fuel cell takes less time than recharging a battery. Note, however, that charging times are still improving.
  • A fuel cell configuration is generally lighter than an equivalent battery. Less transmission weight translates to greater cargo capacity.
  • Hydrogen trucks could achieve much higher range.

This last point has not yet been proven, but we can cite Nicholas, which develops hydrogen semi-trailers. The company has two models in the works, which are the Tre FCEV with a range of 500 miles, and the Two FCEV with a range of 900 miles.

Keep in mind that these numbers are again estimates and that Nikola has been accused of fraud in the past.

Who uses electric semi-trailers today?

Although there are very few models available, electric semi-trailers are indeed used today.

In January 2020, Anheuser Busch announced that he had received his 100th 8TT. 8TT is produced by BYD Motors in China and was one of the first electrical semiconductors to see real-world application. The brewing company uses its 8TTs to deliver product to retail destinations across California (eg, grocery stores).

Another American company using electric semi-trailers is walmart. The retailer is testing both the eCascadia of Freightliner and the Tre BEV by Nikola. Trucks are used to pick up goods from suppliers and then deliver them to regional consolidation centers.