Journey to net-zero emissions is already underway

It takes 900 of today’s heavy trucks to create the emissions just one did in the 1980s. But regulators, shippers and employees are still pushing the trucking industry to completely eliminate its emissions.

The challenges that fleets have to overcome along the way were discussed at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s spring meeting, in a session covering powertrains of the future.

Adam Buttgenbach, director of fleet engineering with PepsiCo, noted considerations when reducing emissions should include the cost of energy, how competitive a fuel source is compared to other alternatives, and infrastructure availability. The company’s mission to reduce its emissions begins in the warehouse, extends to the yard, and then the middle mile, distribution center, and finally, the Final Mile.

PepsiCo trucks
PepsiCo wants to slash its emissions 75% by 2030. (Photo: PepsiCo)

It hopes to slash emissions 75% by 2030. Current technologies range from battery-electric, to renewable natural gas, renewable diesel and biodiesel for the middle mile, with electric vehicles focusing on the Final Mile.

“You don’t want to disrupt the business operations,” Buttgenbach said. “We want to go quickly, but not too quickly to where we get negative perceptions and feedback that slows further adoption.”

When adding electric vehicles to the fleet, consider the cost of electricity in the region where the trucks will be domiciled. “There’s a wide range across the country,” he said of electricity pricing.

Schneider electric truck
Schneider’s first battery-electric truck. (Photo: Schneider)

Schneider greening its fleet

Like PepsiCo, Schneider operates about 80,000 pieces of equipment and is in the process of greening the fleet. It has about 90 battery-electric Class 8 trucks operating in Southern California.

Schneider feels pressure from customers to cut back its emissions, and Robert Reich, executive vice-president of the company, said from 2019 to 2020 the number of companies with net-zero emissions ambitions doubled.

“Our customers made sustainability their priority, and as their supplier we better do so as well,” he said.

Before adding zero-emissions vehicles, Reich encouraged fleets to optimize their network, consolidate freight, and select the greenest mode. Ensure reporting practices are in place and reliable, too. And when it finally comes to the equipment, Reich said to begin with diesel efficiency.

“Too often, we’re not spending enough time or taking enough credit for the great work we’ve done driving diesel efficiency,” he said. However, he added, “We won’t get to net zero with a more efficient diesel fleet.”

In addition to deploying electric trucks, Schneider aims to double the freight it ships intermodally.

It has set a goal in 2020 to reduce its CO2 output per mile by 7.5% by 2025, double intermodal volumes by 2030, and slash CO2 60% by 2035.

“Our assumption is the fleet is going to look quite different,” Reich said.

The costs of net zero

The costs of getting to net zero can’t be overlooked. The company participated in a Joint Electric Truck Scaling Initiative (JETSI), deploying 50 battery-electric trucks. The budget was $27 million, of which just $19 million was for the trucks. The remainder covered such things as charging equipment, charging infrastructure, construction, power, and reporting and communications.

It began receiving its eCascadia trucks with a range of 200-225 miles in the first quarter.

“We know how to buy trucks, we’ve been doing that a long time,” he said. “This is a very different truck. Work closely with operations knowing range is limited, there’s a weight challenge, understand payloads. There’s a lot of process work.”

Operational changes included no longer being able to give slipseat drivers dedicated trucks. “Historically a pair of drivers was assigned to one truck,” said Reich. “You can’t do that with an electric truck given the charging cycle. It’s a next-up assignment process versus being assigned to a truck. We had that change management with the drivers. We made the change with diesel before the electric trucks to make sure we were ready to handle it.”

Waits for charger power

Expect surprises to pop up as you begin to deploy electric trucks, Reich warned. For instance, in one region the local utility said 4.8 megawatts of power would be available for the fleet. By the time the trucks began arriving, new buildings had been erected and the required power for a single electric truck was no longer available.

“The local transformer wouldn’t support a small basic charger,” he said, noting there was a three-month delay before they were able to replace the transformer. The project was expected to take two to 2-1/2 years. “Here we are three years later and we won’t be fully operational until April,” Reich said. And that was for just a single truck and charger.

“As we consider other locations, we may have thought it would be a 12-18 month cycle. It’s longer than that in many cases.”

Battery-electric trucks also weigh about 4,000 lb. more than diesels. “You need to work through that operationally,” said Reich.

Hydrogen and natural gas

He is looking forward to getting hydrogen-fueled trucks in the future and will begin testing one in the next couple weeks.

“The cost of hydrogen has to come down to be competitive,” Reich said.

He also feels natural gas is “making a comeback.” Schneider’s previous experience with natural gas didn’t go well, but now Reich feels it’s likely the fastest way to reduce emissions.

As the company transitions to zero emissions, Reich said Schneider’s employees are pushing it hard to get there. Sustainability is routinely the first topic that comes up during town hall meetings with employees.

Mike Roeth, head of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), said he saw startled looks on the faces of attendees as fleet managers addressed challenges related to going green.

“This is really happening now,” he said. But the good news is a greener trucking industry will also attract a new generation of driver. “I’m convinced we will attract a new driver to trucking because of battery-electric and fuel-cell trucks.”

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