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Truck Tech: Infrastructure infancy edition

A billion reasons why Voltera bears watching in the truck-charging infrastructure space

A new name in electric truck charging and infrastructure broke cover this week with $1 billion or more in private equity funding. With prospects for federal money and significant experience in electrification, Voltera might be a name to watch.

New kid in town 

There’s a new kid in town that could help build infrastructure for electric trucks. The name is Voltera. Its leaders have experience in electric charging. More important, it has access to funding. Lots of funding.

The exact figure is unclear. But Voltera CEO Matt Horton uses the B word, as in billions. The money comes from EQT Infrastructure, a Stockholm-based investor with 77 billion euros ($79.5 billion) under management. EQT is a patient investor for the long haul, Horton told me.

Horton is vague on what EQT expects and exactly how the money will flow to the Herndon, Virginia-based startup. Voltera operated for the last year in stealth. It is a spinoff from data center company EdgeConneX, which is owned by EQT.

“The capital from EQT is open-ended,” Horton said. “The commitments that they’re making to our program, even into the billions, is a very small piece of their overall investment program into infrastructure.”

Integrating charging with data centers and offloading data from autonomous vehicles are possible future projects, according to a report on Data Center

“Voltera will advance the transportation industry like EdgeConneX did digital infrastructure,” EdgeConneX CEO Randy Brouckman said.

Charging as a service

At its core, Voltera will operate a commercial charging-as-a-service model, covering the upfront capital costs and complexity of charging. That means buying the land, designing and constructing the charging sites, procuring the power in the necessary amounts, deploying and commissioning chargers and running the facilities.

A rendering of a Voltera charging center. (Image: Voltera)

That could be on a shared site or a single customer location. 

“We’re looking to find great matchups between different charge uses so we can drive even higher utilization by mixing a fleet that charges overnight with one that has fast-charging needs during the day,” Horton said.

For chargers, Voltera — rhymes with Proterra — will work with existing suppliers to get chargers. Proterra could be in the mix.

“I was part of those programs, so I know the product really well,” said Horton, who was Proterra’s chief commercial officer during six years at the electric bus and infrastructure company. “Proterra could definitely be in the partner category for us.”

Other Voltera team members worked for Shell Recharge Solutions, Electrify America, EVgo, Proterra, Arrival and Ford Mobility.

Voltera will not be in the hardware business, Horton said.

Green shoots  

Voltera is not ready to name customers, but Class 8 trucking is a focus.

That is helpful because heavy-duty truck charging trails the infrastructure rollout for light-duty electric vehicles. None of the $5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program (NEVI) from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is earmarked for truck charging. 

All 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico submitted plans at the beginning of August for their share of the first $1 billion of tax dollars. An additional $2.5 billion is set aside for undefined competitive community-focused grants.

A July announcement by General Motors and Pilot Co. to build high-speed charging islands at 500 Pilot truck stops and travel plazas focuses on light-duty EVs. Efforts like that help. But the won’t approach the estimated $40 billion needed to meet passenger EV demand by 2030. 

EV fleets will need almost 150 gigawatts of power by the end of the decade in the U.S. and Europe. That’s about equivalent to the annual power consumption of all U.S. households

Trucking’s turn

The feds may soon cast a vision and fund truck-focused infrastructure, according to Britta Gross, director of transportation programs for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

“They haven’t defined a program yet like the light-duty program,” Gross told me. “I am hearing it is coming maybe by the end of the year or in the first quarter [of 2023].”

With the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation comes a new acronym — JOET. But the feds are not going to foot the entire bill for the industry, nor should they, Gross said.

“It is critical that private equity step up and meet industry and government where they are,” she said. “This is the only way it works in America. It’s incredibly promising that the three stakeholders that most need to participate are doing so.”

Daimler Truck North America, BlackRock Renewable Power and NextEra Energy Resources plan a $650 million joint venture to build charging infrastructure for electric and hydrogen fuel cell medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

The nonpublic utility side of Duke Energy launched eTransEnergy, an end-to-end services business to help logistics and last-mile delivery businesses and institutions electrify their vehicle fleets, in 2021.

“This investment becomes really critical, the stuff like what Voltera is doing,” Gross said. 

Semi truth?

Forgive the skepticism of Wednesday’s announcement by tweet that the long-awaited battery-electric Tesla Semi will be shipped before the end of the year. Considering the source is Tesla CEO Elon Musk, it can’t be dismissed. But the adage trust and verify comes to mind.

Tesla itself isn’t talking, so we have no details. It is possible that the Semi, in small quantities, may be headed for a Frito-Lay plant complex in Modesto, California. The Pepsico subsidiary expected 15 of the trucks by the end of 2021. All it got was installation of a Tesla mega charger, according to Electrek.

Before his most recent tweet, Musk’s latest estimate for the Semi, originally due in 2019, was late 2023. His rationale made sense. Using its restricted supply of battery cells in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles generates greater returns than in the heavier and more power-hungry Semi.

by using them in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles. that needed fewer cells.

Tesla won’t say how many Semi orders it has. But it did open the orderbook recently, requiring a $20,000 deposit per truck.

Briefly noted …

Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” emissions scandal is the gift that keeps on giving to electrification. The Volkswagen Environmental Trust has set aside $90 million of a total $423 million in California for rebates on zero-emission Class 8 trucks used in freight and port drayage. More from the California Air Resources Board, as reported by CleanTechnica.

The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association is dropping its lawsuit against CARB over its hurry-up regulation for OEMs to reduce pollution from nitrogen oxide. The war of words between EMA and environmental groups played out in pages of quotes. 

It’s possible that some EMA members pressured the trade group to back off after being called out for hypocrisy in supporting clean trucking but stalling that progress. EMA saved face by saying the Environmental Protection Agency’s review of a CARB-sought waiver to a four-year lead time requirement was good enough. 

Wabash is investing $20 million in a plant in Minnesota to expand manufacturing capacity of its EcoNex technology for refrigerated trailers. The Lafayette, Indiana-based trailer maker is all-in on the molded structural composite that uses environmentally conscious materials aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on nonrenewable energy. Wabash is converting its old-tech refer plant to make dry vans while planning to create more than 200 jobs in Little Falls, Minnesota, by the end of 2023.

A grocery delivery van with EcoNex technology from Wabash. (Photo: Wabash)

New York, New York

The hits just keep on coming for indicted Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton. After the federal government won a motion to keep Milton’s fraud trial in the Southern District of New York, another federal judge this week said “no” to moving Milton’s civil trial on similar charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission to Arizona or Utah. And U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein agreed with the feds’ motion to pause the civil trial until the criminal case, scheduled for Sept. 12, is over.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech by email on Fridays.


Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.