Don’t tell the companies installing electric truck infrastructure that it may not be so critical after all. California-based startup Booster is using IoT and digitization to modernize the role of fuel jobber. Speaking of infrastructure, is battery swapping due for a comeback?
Do we really need fixed infrastructure?
Must battery-powered electric trucks have a fully developed high-speed electric infrastructure to keep them moving? What if that infrastructure were mobile? Think chargers on wheels like those made by Australia’s Tritium, profiled here last week.
It’s not so far-fetched. There is already a $100 million-plus business delivering gasoline, diesel and alternative fuels directly to some of the nation’s biggest delivery fleets. The name Booster may not be instantly recognizable. But its $125 million series D fundraising round caught my attention this week.
All in, the startup has raised more than $200 million including $56 million in a series C round in 2019 with investments from the venture capital arms of car rental and fleet management company Enterprise Holdings and integrated energy company Total SA.
Booster was founded in 2015 by Frank Mycroft, 36, a former Boeing spacecraft systems engineer with engineering degrees from Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. “I’m a little bit overeducated,” Mycroft confided in a phone interview.
He takes an engineering mindset to the fueling business. Booster focuses on servicing last-mile fleets with an eye on becoming a one-stop shop for middle-mile freight haulers. It started out delivering gasoline as an employment perk to companies in Seattle.
Mycroft’s goal: deliberately eliminate an aging and inefficient gasoline infrastructure by modernizing the role of the jobber — a buyer of fuel from a refiner who sells directly to retailers or individuals.
“The way we do energy delivery to vehicles is antiquated,” Mycroft said. “The gas station is a headache. People don’t enjoy it. Even today with electrification, plugging in vehicles is not an activity people look forward to.”
Digitizing fuel delivery vs. building infrastructure
Across industries, the use of digitized data has improved supply chains, fostered next-day delivery and made consumers expect more faster. So why not use the data from telematics and fuel cards to know where vehicles are, how much fuel — and eventually charging — they need and take it to them?
“We don’t need bookstores anymore, We don’t need Blockbusters. Why do we need stations for energy? A lot of the time, I don’t think we do,” Mycroft said.
Serving blended fleets
Fuel tankers work fine but carry only a single fuel, typically gasoline. Mixed last-mile fleets are Booster’s sweet spot.
“They’ve got some gas, they’ve got some diesel, and occasionally now, they’ve got some EVs,” Mycroft said. “[When] you’re doing mixed products, it’s even more technology-enabled because you’ve got to get it right every single time. Right product. Right vehicle. At the right time.”
Booster offers petroleum-based diesel fuel, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) and biomass-based renewable diesel. It runs E85 ethanol and mobile electric charging pilots.
“The reason we don’t do [charging] at large is there’s actually no need yet,” Mycroft said. “There’s a lot of talk about EVs and fleets. They’re just not there yet at any kind of meaningful scale.”
A recent study shows total cost of ownership parity between diesel and battery-powered step vans is already here. Booster could go live with mobile charging within six months. The model would likely plug in a fleet’s electric trucks to a mobile charger, fill other trucks at the same location with liquid fuels, then unplug the electric units.
Booster’s value proposition
The math of fuel delivery works in part because it eliminates trips to the gas station by a fleet’s vehicles. Booster pegs that as saving 5% to 8% in fuel consumption. And it removes fuel cards, which are rife with misuse.
“When you have to give every driver a fuel card, you have to expect 3% to 5% of the fuel you’re buying is being stolen and going to other vehicles,” Mycroft said.
Booster sets a price for fuel it sells, so that part of the equation is free of wild fluctuations. Credits from low-carbon fuel standards help keep the price competitive with diesel and gasoline. Customers pay by vehicle or by subscription, “a fraction of the $30 to $50” it costs in labor and fuel to fill up away from home base.
Company drivers pilot Booster’s 200-vehicle fleet of Isuzu, Hino and Peterbilt cabovers on renewable fuels. Most deliveries are after dark. The trucks are upfitted for maneuverability and efficiency.
“It’s a bit of a Frankenstein [monster]. It’s got this magical ability to load up unbranded wholesale supply at 600 gallons a minute,” Mycroft said. “But it’s also able to go anywhere a small vehicle can go and deliver directly to that vehicle.”
Simplified supply chain without infrastructure
Booster’s supply chain has no gas stations, no corner real estate lots and no brand licensing. Relationships with dozens of fuel suppliers allow Booster to load at terminals coast to coast in markets where it serves about 400 large fleet customers.
“No single thing has held back the energy transition and clean renewables more than our reliance on infrastructure,” Mycroft said. “You couldn’t do what we did before technology and so, the fact that you’ve got IoT and telematics actually changes the whole game.”
A battery-swapping comeback?
If you’ve been around electric vehicles long enough, you may remember Better Place, the Israel-based battery-swapping service for electric cars. It went bankrupt in 2013, and the concept of exchanging a drained battery for a fresh one in a few minutes sort of died with it.
Now, research consultant IDTechEx is pointing to a comeback in battery swapping.
Startups serving cars, two- and three-wheelers, and commercial heavy-duty vehicles are now entering the market. In 2021, 8% of all Chinese EVs were swap-capable because they have rechargeable, replaceable and upgradeable battery packs, according to IDTechEx. Here’s more on China adoption from Interact Analysis.
Battery-as-a-service reverses the standard time trade-off between EVs and gasoline-powered vehicles. Overnight charging at 110 or 220 volts is time consuming. Direct current fast chargers can charge a battery to 80% in about 30 minutes but cause the battery to degrade over time.
Battery swapping aims to decouple the cost of the battery from the vehicle itself. The maintenance, health and cost of the battery ownership belong to the company offering the swapping service. EV buyers simply pay for the usage based on their driving needs.
Briefly noted …
The Kenworth Class 8 Heavy Duty Truck Assembly Plant in Chillicothe, Ohio, is honoring the building of more than 700,000 trucks since 1974 with its first truck parade on June 18.
Separately, Kenworth recently delivered its 10,000th T680 Next Generation truck to System Transport at the company’s 50th anniversary celebration in Spokane, Washington.
Electric truck makers want 10% of the $7.5 billion set aside in the federal infrastructure bill for electric charging go toward medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, The Verge reported.
Solo Advanced Vehicle Technologies, featured here a few weeks ago, signed an initial agreement with American Battery Solutions to develop the battery system for the SD1 Class 8 battery-electric long-haul truck.
Just in time for Memorial Day, the Diesel Technology Forum is resurrecting a decade-old gem from the University of California Riverside, which found that charbroiling a hamburger resulted in more particulate matter emissions than driving a modern diesel-powered tractor trailer for 143 miles.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech via email on Fridays.