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Long-Haul Trucking Companies Begin to Plan for an Alternative Fuel Future

Trucks that move goods, medicines, electronics, cars, and construction equipment have never been more critical to the United States and, indeed, the globe. And yet, still today, most heavy-duty trucks today, ranging from Class 5 (16,001 lbs.) to Class 8 (26,001 lbs. and higher), operate on diesel fuel engines. And it has been this way since the first “semi-truck” was invented in 1898. Here we are 122 years later and still, the electric future is not here.

There has been an increasing amount of press coverage romancing the idea that a plethora of start-up trucking companies can quickly revolutionize the industry and deploy a convoy of long-haul trucks built with EV battery technology. Imagine it now. Now, keep imagining because it hasn’t happened yet. So, when will the EV revolution arrive and what will it take to get us there?

The Dangers of a Changing Climate

If there is one thing that policymakers, OEMs, and everyday people can agree on, it’s this: The weather is changing. And yet the reasons, solutions, and underlying causes are all up for considerable debate, aren’t they?  Climate change is among today’s most heated debate topics and social causes. From governments to global multi-national corporations, heavy hitters and global players are re-writing the rules of the game when it comes to their sustainability goals.

As companies the world over adjust their business strategies to reduce and eventually meet a zero-carbon emission footprint, the way we ship and receive goods will inevitably change. And that’s why the FMCSA and Congress have been crafting legislation managing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. It is these GRGs that are at the heart of climate change debates. And these debates certainly need to happen. With global economic activity pumping out CO2 levels estimated to be 50% over pre-industrialization levels, something’s got to give. The debate has now moved from a political one to a scientific one.

The fact is this: GHG emissions generated from the transportation sector accounts for approximately 27% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions. So, what is the industry doing about it? And how is the federal government attempting to regulate it?

A Shifting Regulatory Landscape

When it comes to climate change, corporations and government leaders face more pressure than ever before. Whether it be from everyday consumers, partners, vendors, or their customers, businesses face tremendous pressure to reduce GHG output. And they are going about it in different ways. From their factories and supply chains to their equipment and routing, carbon emissions are top of mind in the C-suite.

Interestingly, you can see this born out in how modern-day companies conduct business. Today, it is estimated that 90% of companies in the S&P 500 provide environmental, social, and governance (ESG) plans and reports. They do this because today’s interested business parties want companies they invest in or partner with to demonstrate how they will reach aggressive carbon-reduction goals in a warming world.

Over the past decade, more and more corporations and business leaders have taken steps to ensure their organizations have well-planned and publicized ESG plans and goals. Still, more must be done. Why? Because the SEC recently issued a proposed rule that would enhance and standardize the climate-related disclosures provided by public companies. But will it be enough?

What is in the New SEC Emissions Disclosure

Under the SEC’s new proposed rule, a registrant will be required to adhere to GHG emissions disclosures. But what does this mean in practice? Basically, that fleet managers or other decision-makers within the company must ensure within qualitative governance disclosures are notated within their annual reports. This is where the great fleet managers separate themselves from the simply good, or even bad.

But that’s not all. Aside from the adherence to emissions reductions, trucking companies are now required to document their emissions certifications for SEC filings. This is a vital step because medium- and heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles produce nearly a fourth of all GHG emissions globally. That’s right. Commercial hauling equipment, including tractor-trailers, large pickups and vans, delivery trucks, buses, and garbage trucks, are responsible for up to 24% of all transportation emissions.

One of these strategies involves completely retrofitting internal combustion powertrains with alternate power technologies. These technologies could include everything from battery-electric to hydrogen fuel cells. Power options are also different by vehicle type. Consider that biofuel technology is used in cars, medium-duty vans, heavy-duty long-haul trucks, and “last mile” delivery vehicles. Alternative fuel vehicles are here to stay. Will your trucking company embrace the trend?

Trucking companies across the world are asking themselves what the realities of moving from diesel-powered engines will be like. How easy will it really be to transform your fleet from gas-powered to EV battery, hydrogen, or some other technology? We want to illustrate how a natural bridge progression strategy will ultimately serve your company’s best interests. Whether you have sustainable goals or not, reducing emissions – and thus fuel costs – benefits everyone.

Conduct Your EV Strategy Due Diligence

We want to take some time to highlight some facts about electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and other alternative fuels and energy sources. Fleet managers don’t need fancy promises, they need actionable strategies to transform their fleets and meet ESG goals. This should all be done while you transition to a future of alternative energy technology.

However, many trucking companies struggle with how to plan an ESG transition. What are the most critical aspects of such a transition? What should you pay attention to and keep track of? Consider the following questions as you storyboard your alternative fuel source transition:

  • The economics of switching to EV technology today.
  • The net benefit to your fleet when compared to diesel/internal combustion.
  • Evaluate all possible alternative fuel alternatives.
  • A list of pros and cons of today’s alternate fuel technologies.
  • The benefits of clean diesel technology.
  • Truck and parts replacement programs.

These questions are important, but there are still some intractable problems facing the EV industry, especially where commercial motor vehicles are concerned.

Where Are All the Electric Trucks?

We’ve been reporting on electric CMVs for a long time. Way back in 2018 we asked, “Are Electric Trucks Just a Fancy Thought?” Here we are, over four years later, and still, we do not have electric big rigs cruising the highways. But why? Well, consider that the technologies underpinning internal combustion engines have matured over nearly a century. Battery-powered big rigs weren’t even a thought until the turn of the 21st century.

The reason EV Class 8 trucks are not everywhere is because the technology is nascent. Companies have so far failed to deliver on their promise because of the simple fact that EV battery technology remains elusive in its quest to accomplish the realities of balancing battery weight, necessary vehicle range, and payload requirements. This is especially true for over-the-road Class 8 equipment. Last-mile and urban trucking companies don’t have the same constraints long-haul trucking companies do when it comes to the viability of battery stamina, weight, range, and so on.

Does this mean we are only a few years away? Are battery-powered big rigs just around the corner? While some believe the realities are not a few years away for long-haul trucks, but more likely decades, others are more optimistic Still, OEMs will have to address the realities of a long-haul route. Electric semi OEMs like Nikola and Tesla tout a 200 – 300-mile range, but the reality is that long-haulers often drive two or three times that distance.

The U.S. Needs a Transportation System Overhaul

To get us to a place where trucking companies can rely on electric trucks, we need to overhaul our entire ground transportation system. The U.S. government and utility companies will also need to address aging infrastructure before implementing the right technologies to handle EV demand. And trucking companies will need to work with utility companies to ensure they have the capacity to charge their equipment.

Unfortunately, America’s desire to move toward EVs will run into the wall of aging transformers and dated electrical lines. Thanks to our ancient electrical grid, we could run into problems that have made it hard for homeowners, local governments, and businesses. In many places, the grid is simply not robust enough to accommodate the use of solar panels, batteries, electric cars, heat pumps, and other devices that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the end, this will require work from businesses across industries. Decarbonizing transport is about more than what comes out of the tailpipe. No, instead, the industry and regulators must also look at emissions for how the fuel or energy gets to its final destination. Fortunately, smart people across the country are working on those questions right now. And we’ll come back to this topic to consider their analysis. Until then, stay tuned, because the EV future will be here eventually.

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