There is at least one operation which is out there actually providing a mobile charging service by the side of the road for working electric trucks, right now. Electric trucks are going to become a growing part of the trucking industry, as the drive towards zero emission transport picks up.
There are quite a few people looking into this topic and devising solutions which may be available in the future, as the number of electric trucks on our roads grows.
The operation is called EV Charging Australia, and PowerTorque caught up with them to talk about the issues around this kind of charging service and how the industry may develop over time. David Nyambuya, is the Director of the start up company and is leading the charge (pun intended).
Subscribers needing a charge for the vehicle battery simply call in and ask for a call-out or book a time for one. Then a van will arrive to charge the batteries back up. Currently, the diesel powered van is fitted with a bio-diesel generator to provide the battery charging.
Using the service the operation currently provide, regional subscribers can get 100km of charge and metro get 50km. This is usually enough to get them home or to a static fast charge facility. At the moment the subscription for regional areas is 50 per cent higher than those wanting coverage in metro areas.
“When we come to charge a vehicle battery, we could give it a full charge, but for many of these electric vehicles, once they get to around 80-90 per cent full, the system will regulate the charge rate down to about 7-15 kW/h,” says David. “Even if the generator can put out 22 or even 50 kW/h, we can’t give you 100 per cent, without sitting there for more than an hour and a half. We say we will charge your vehicle up to 80 per cent, because we can do that in a relatively short time.”
The mobile charging units in the city are using some small lithium batteries to provide their fast charging, but this service is only powerful enough to charge electric cars. For most of the charging needs the operation uses LDV vans with biodiesel generators on board. At this time using batteries powerful to get a truck back on the road are too expensive and too heavy to be practical.
If the operation were to move across now from using generators to lithium batteries for charging, the subscription charged to customers on a monthly basis would have to more than double. However, over time as the electric vehicle industry matures, older batteries which are being removed from electric trucks and cars will be able to get a second life as recharging batteries in the emergency recharging vans, at a reduced cost.
“We have taken over two years to try and build the model,” says David. “When you start crunching all of the numbers, new batteries are not practical at all. It’s a combination of cost and weight. With the vans, with a short wheelbase and height restriction.”
The economics of developing a business from scratch with fully zero emissions from the outset does not work. The units need to be established at the outset, and need to grow the subscription base to the point where a fully zero emission battery powered charging system can be deployed.
David is currently exploring the possibility of using electric vans to carry the charging equipment, but, yet again, the economics of using an electric van does not make economic sense. David is talking to importers planning to bring in new electric vans, and from the information he has gleaned he is certain there will be a viable electric alternative, quite soon.
“We know that in the future, we will be able to get hold of second hand batteries from Tesla, for example, we should be the first port of call for them and we can use them as a charging solution in our vans,” says David. “We’ve got a couple of things on the go and I think the 2028 mandate on our website, to be a zero emission operation is realistic. Battery technology is changing and it is becoming more affordable.”