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Myriad issues face trucking industry as it moves to electrify

Powering the Future of Freight - A Clean Transport Forum brings together speakers from Purolator, Lion, U of Windsor, 360 Energy

IMAGE: Participants at the Clean Transport Forum
From left to right: Chris Manuel, business development manager at Lion Electric; Rupp Carriveau, University of Windsor professor; James Williams, account manager with 360 Energy; and Joe Lombardo, Purolator's vice-president of network operations. (Nicholas Sokic, SustainableBiz)

There are pressing issues at the forefront of Canada’s ongoing transportation electrification: charging infrastructure, grid emissions and availability, battery life cycles and recycling, to name a few. In the freight transportation sector, these issues are magnified by the size of a company’s fleet.

This was the discussion at the centre of 360 Energy Inc.’s recent event, Powering the Future of Freight - A Clean Transport Forum at Samuel, Son and Co.’s Oakville, Ont. headquarters.

“The ability to source batteries has been a problem, probably, for all OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), heavy-duty and light passenger as well,” Chris Manuel, the Lion Electric Company’s (LEV-T) business development manager, told those in attendance. “Having this in Canada, designed (and) assembled here is going to be a huge advantage going forward on a supply chain and from a design aspect.”

Other speakers included James Williams, account manager with 360 Energy Inc.; Rupp Carriveau, University of Windsor professor and director of the Environmental Energy Institute; and Joe Lombardo, Purolator Inc.’s vice-president of network operations. 360 Energy CEO David Arkell moderated the forum.

Purolator's big picture on electric freight

The benefit of electrifying heavy-duty vehicles is in reducing emissions. Manuel stated an electric heavy-duty truck could eliminate 50 to 70 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually compared to a diesel truck.

However, while light electric vehicles comprise about 2.5 per cent of Canadian transportation, heavy-duty electric trucks are still almost non-existent.

“The business case today is not great financially,” Lombardo said, “but it is right from a sustainability point of view.”

In March, Purolator announced a $1 billion investment over seven years to electrify 60 per cent of its vehicle fleet and over 60 of its terminals.

Lombardo added later during a panel discussion that Purolator is focused on iterating, and mentioned that the company may not need as big a battery pack for many of its vehicles – down from the 300- to 400-kilometre range to perhaps 150 kilometres – as it learns to better manage its energy consumption.

In 2021, Purolator reports it emitted 2.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for every 1,000 packages delivered. In launching its electrification investment, Purolator looked at incentive programs, costs and upgrade requirements, vehicle performance in different climates as well as range and cubic capacity.

Still, questions remain, including with the retirement age of an electric fleet.

“We're planning for eight years on the battery, something longer on the frame and infrastructure,” Lombardo said. “We're targeting somewhere between 10 and 15 years? We don't know exactly yet.”

Lion Electric's charging challenges

Saint-Jérôme, Que.-based Lion Electric recently opened its 175,000-square-foot factory in Mirabel, Que. to produce lithium-ion batteries for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. It currently has 950 heavy-duty electric vehicles on the road in North America.

Lion Electric uses Level 3 chargers, but Manuel highlighted some of the infrastructure problems unique to electric freight transportation.

“The challenge we have with the Level 3 chargers that are out there is a 26-foot straight shot in any sort of public charging infrastructure,” he said. “You’re blocking off three or four spots. The truck will physically charge, you can do it, but counting on it, planning on it, (is) just opening up trouble.”

When it comes to the battery issue, Lion Electric states it can recycle up to 95 per cent of a battery’s materials.

Impacts of the grid on electrification

According to the North American Council on Freight Efficiency’s 2022 Annual Fleet Fuel Study, fuel prices play a role in half of the factors driving fleet decision-making.

Despite the challenges in the transition, electrification is poised to provide cheaper fuel compared to diesel, especially when factoring-in increasing Canadian carbon taxes. As Williams explained, the average Canadian fleet travels around 146,000 kilometres per year with an average fuel efficiency of 40 litres per 100 kilometres.

“Depending on the fleet, the distance travelled, the fuel efficiency, optimizing the fuel costs . . . it can go as low as $42,000 (or) it can go as high as $270,000,” he said, “particularly when you're looking at fuel costs around $2 per litre.”

While the per unit power cost fluctuates depending on the province or territory, it will be lower for electric drivers. Ontario and Alberta, also the most expensive provinces for per-unit power cost, are the only provinces where the price changes by the hour – between three and 10 cents and 10 to 16 cents, respectively.

“Charging at the wrong time can increase the costs substantially if you're not paying attention to the target, and not understanding where the risks are under pricing and where the market is at that moment,” Williams said.

The emissions intensity of the grid is also important to consider. According to Lombardo, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec have the lowest carbon intensity. Purolator is also looking into on-site power generation and storage to help offset power costs. However, Lombardo said most of Purolator's consumption is between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.

The best-case cost scenario for an overnight charge in Ontario with an 800-kilowatt battery, Williams said, is about $24 — or three cents per kilowatt-hour. The worst case at a higher-rate charging time would be about five cents per kilowatt-hour and about $40 total.

“Most customers actually don't understand rates. They don't understand the consumption. It’s a black box. They think energy is not controllable. It's completely controllable if you have that information, and you know what to do,” Arkell said.

“If you want to be really cost-effective (with electrification), you're gonna have to be smarter on how you use your energy.”

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