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NewsTechnologyTrucking

TMC20: NACFE kicks off 3-year regional-haul truck electrification research project

Program is designed to help fleets identify use cases, solve unanswered questions before deploying vehicles

As focus begins to center on regional-haul trucks as the best early fit for electrification, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) has announced a three-year research effort in this area.

The group made the announcement Sunday at the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council meeting in Atlanta.

NACFE will focus on identifying high-potential regional trucking routes as they pertain to changes in freight movement; supporting the implementation of initial and future deployments of electric vehicles outside of California; scaling best practices in infrastructure development for fleets and communities; and increasing confidence in the value of electrification.

The work will be done in conjunction with NACFE’s partner, the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Commercializing electric trucks poses many problems, said Mike Roeth executive director of NACFE, but it has plenty of potential.

“This is a big sector and we are just starting to understand the regional-haul section of trucking, and we’re going to [research it],” he said.

Roeth noted that there are 800,000 regional-haul tractors in operation in the U.S., averaging 65,000 miles per year, so the segment represents a big opportunity.

NACFE is using the duty cycles from its Run On Less Regional event back in November to see on which types of routes electric might make sense. The group will hold a series of electric-truck workshops over the next three months with more to be announced later this year. Many workshops will likely be attached to specific projects.

This work builds on NACFE’s existing work in regional haul, including a thought-leadership piece and its Guidance Report series on electric trucks.

The three-year project is partly underwritten by grants from the Hewlett Foundation, a nonprofit, private charitable group; and ClimateWorks Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that promotes climate action.

“We feel really good about seeing philanthropy grants coming into NACFE,” said Rob Reich, executive vice president and chief administration officer for Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR) and board chair of NACFE.

Reich said having a group like NACFE conduct this work is important for carriers in the industry so they can begin to understand where electric trucks fit.

“[Change] as significant as electric trucks is hard to figure out, so having somebody out there to [research this is] … helpful to my team,” Reich said.

Roeth said the electric truck is “not as easy as we all thought, and there are a lot of challenges,” which is why this research is so important.

He noted concerns such as brownouts of electrical grids and training technicians to fix the vehicles as just two of many issues. Infrastructure is another, which is why picking dedicated corridors to begin installing electric may be a partial solution, and why NACFE will be looking at many of these questions.

“That is the work that I see NACFE helping us all with,” Reich said. “It’s the questions that we haven’t had to think of and I’m hoping to get some help from NACFE on these questions.”

Another unknown is who will build the infrastructure, and whether it will be in place before large-scale vehicle deployment or in conjunction with it.

“We’re starting to see organizations, whether it is truck builders or utilities, start to step up and manage this whole process,” Roeth said. “I think we’ll see more of this, and some utilities are starting to step up.

He added that it’s important to deploy the trucks in the right applications.

“We believe there is great opportunity,” Roeth said, “but if you try to put a square peg in a round hole, you’ve [failed].”

Roeth said having a national plan for fast charging for trucking is important but that there are a lot of other opportunities out there. “We need to learn to walk before we run,” he said.

Rick Mihelic, director of future studies for NACFE, said the industry is starting with a structure that is not in place today, and future investment is important to grow it.

“Over this whole chain, I think there will be money going in because there is demand,” he said.

Roeth echoed those thoughts and said NACFE is still looking for partners.

“We need people to engage with us by attending our workshops, sharing their knowledge about regional haul and/or electric trucks, or by helping fund this critical work. Reach out to us today,” he urged.

Roeth relayed that as he has visited state trucking association meetings, electric is on everyone’s mind.

“We have a lot of interest in new technologies. My gut tells me that fleets are too worried about hiring drivers and filling trucks, but the opposite is true,” Roeth said.

He said there are opportunities to learn from natural gas fleets that have had to deal with similar concerns those adopting electric will have to. This includes lack of nationwide infrastructure and limited route options.

Roeth discounted, though, concern that slow fleet orders for electric trucks implies a lack of desire to deploy them.

“We’re still in the phase of early deployments,” he said. “We want to be known as helping the industry; we want to help identify issues and fix those issues before the next round of deployment.”

“We’re right there at the start of that S-curve,” Mihelic added.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.

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