Heavy diesel trucks made their debut in the 1930s, and now almost all commercial trucks on the road are diesel-powered. However, the future of trucking is upon us as battery, and fuel-cell trucks become more viable.
Does that mean that we’ll be riding in Tesla or Nikola fuel-cell trucks in the near future? Continue reading below to find out.
Two Types of Electric Engines
For decades, both fuel cell and lithium-ion battery-electric powertrains have been developed for the commercial truck market. Backers of both technologies have tried to prove that their electric truck will be the one of the future.
Both types of systems use electricity to power the vehicle, but they do so in different ways.
Lithium-ion battery trucks store their electricity in, you guessed it—batteries. To fill up the truck, it needs to be plugged in and recharged after so many miles.
Battery range is improving by the year, and company’s like Daimler and Tesla are claiming that they can get 200-plus miles on a single charge with a fully loaded tractor-trailer.
The downside of this system is that batteries are heavy. The batteries alone could weigh over 25,000 pounds, and recharging will take several hours.
Fuel-cell trucks produce electric power via an electrochemical process using hydrogen as fuel. The trucks are zero-emission because the only by-product of this reaction is water.
Much like regular fuel, fuel-cell trucks are simply topped-up with hydrogen—no charging needed. Fuel-cell trucks aren’t weighed down by batteries and are nearly as light as a regular diesel truck.
Will We Be Driving Electric Trucks Soon?
This question is a bit tricky to answer because the answer depends on the type of commercial truck.
At the moment, lithium-ion battery trucks are proving themselves in the light and medium-duty truck market. Refuse, regional, and delivery trucks will likely use battery power because they travel short distances and can recharge overnight.
The long-range trucking applications are much less clear for both battery and fuel-cell. Both technologies have minimal infrastructure, which makes them challenging to use everywhere.
However, if battery-powered class 8 trucks like Tesla’s Semi prove their 500-mile claim, truckers could work their hours of service and then rest as the truck recharges.
Fuel-cell trucks can easily go long distances, but refueling would be a problem due to the lack of infrastructure. On top of that, producing hydrogen fuel, then turning it into electric energy in a fuel-cell is much less efficient than using just electricity.
Battery-Powered Trucks Will Likely Be the Future
Lithium-Ion battery appears to be the winner of the electric drivetrain race. The cost of batteries is steadily decreasing as the technology gets better.
Tesla and Daimler aim to get their commercial electric vehicles on the road within the next two or three years.
If electric trucks prove themselves in the coming years, there’s a very good chance we’ll be sitting behind the wheel of one within the next decade.