Kruger Energy learning lessons from electric trucks

Khalil Telhaoui, Kruger Energy’s senior project manager – transportation electrification, believes his company was lucky to secure two of Canada’s first battery-electric tractors.

The units have been traveling back and forth between Kruger’s factory in Crabtree and warehouse in Laval — a 65-kilometer journey — under a pilot project in Quebec, and there are plans to add 20 more electric vehicles over the next five years.

“We received the vehicles toward the end of last summer,” he says, referring to the pair of Peterbilt 579EVs parked in front of a charging station in Laval. And the business has been learning important lessons along the way.

Since last November, Kruger Energy has been operating two battery electric trucks under commercial conditions. 
(Photo: Kruger Energy)

Decarbonizing Kruger

Kruger Energy specializes in renewable energy, working with wind, solar, hydroelectricity, batteries and biomass. “Since 2004, we have invested nearly $1.4 billion in renewable energy at 52 production sites across Canada and the U.S.,” says senior vice-president and chief operating officer Jean Roy.

The electric trucks are initially aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our owner wanted us to decarbonize the company and reduce our carbon footprint,” Roy says, referring to the business that manufactures products such as toilet paper and paper towels.

“Our paper division generates greenhouse gases [GHG] while our energy division does not. It was about seeing how we could help our sister company reduce its GHG, and that’s where electric trucks came into the discussion, in the fall of 2019.”

Third-party transportation

Kruger Energy owns the trucks, but the equipment is operated by third-party transportation companies. “I proposed to our sister company, which manufactures toilet paper, to offer the same transport services and at the same price as with diesel trucks, but without the greenhouse gas emissions,” Roy says.

The business does not want to become a trucking company or a truck rental company, he adds. But it has the expertise to partner with carriers that want to electrify. “Our know-how is to determine the routes, see how we can interconnect, [and] if the chargers and the infrastructure are suitable, help the trucking companies to put the infrastructure in place.

“With the electric truck technology available, the model applied well to the Crabtree plant and its toilet paper, a lightweight product. We are willing to accept lower returns because we are pioneers. It is in Kruger’s DNA to innovate, to be ahead of the parade with new technologies.”

Electric truck orders placed

To date, Kruger has placed deposits on 65 electric trucks from three manufacturers: Peterbilt, Lion and Tesla.

“We have 22 manufacturing slots reserved at Peterbilt because it is the first manufacturer to be able to deliver the technology we wanted,” says Jean Létourneau, vice-president, business development and finance at Kruger Energy. The first Lions will arrive when the Class 8 model is certified by Transport Canada.

Kruger is brand-agnostic. It simply wants quality electric trucks that have a good lifespan and are appreciated by drivers.

“We also want to ensure maximum flexibility,” Létourneau says. That’s why deposits have been made on around 30 Tesla Semis, which promise to be able to travel longer distances in an all-electric mode.

Trucks in the field

Before implementing its pilot project, Kruger Energy conducted an internal analysis with the help of five MBA students from HEC Montréal.

“They studied 10,000 transport routes from Kruger. We determined which were the best options for electric trucks,” Roy says. “We tried to put the odds on our side by opting for lighter products.”

Electric trucks carry 20,000-lb. loads, and this cargo cubes out before reaching maximum allowable weights. The trailers are also full when they leave the factory, but empty when they return from the warehouse.

“The trucks have 400-kWh batteries, which gives a range of 220 km in summer. Which is enough to make the Crabtree-Laval roundtrip. In winter, there remains between 25% and 40% charge in the battery once the trip is completed,” Telhaoui says.

A 180-kW charger is in the factory while another 120-kW charger has been installed in the warehouse as a precautionary measure — in case extreme cold or traffic congestion affect the vehicle range. But, in theory, the factory charger is enough to close the loop.

Lessons learned

The two Peterbilt 579EVs have helped Kruger learn many lessons since the trucks were officially commissioned on Nov. 1.

“We have covered approximately 20,000 km combined on the two vehicles, with real loads and in real operating conditions. Of course, we encountered difficulties, but we resolved them,” Telhaoui says.

Cold weather has not had much of an affect on operating range because the vehicles are either moving or recharging, keeping the batteries relatively warm, he says as an example. “We are not too much of a victim of winter conditions when the operation operates 24/7.”

The Crabtree plant has the electric infrastructure to support larger charging ambitions, too.

“Eventually, we could think of needing 10 charging stations at the factory representing approximately 1 mW out of a demand of approximately 23 mW. That doesn’t seem like a lot,” Létourneau says.

Matching trucks and routes

The easiest way to approach an electrification project, Telhaoui suggests, is to consider the trucks that travel specific routes.

“For owners of industrial sites and food distributors, who have roads somewhat similar to ours, I would say to start with these roads,” he says. “We maintain a little leeway [in terms of range] for the colder days, for those where there is a little more traffic, and for the unexpected.”

“This first route (Crabtee-Laval) was easy to enter into the equation,” Létourneau adds. But not everything is always so simple. “There’s a road in Ontario that we still can’t electrify. It is too demanding, especially because of the distance. Our second route is going to be in British Columbia and it’s going to have customer wait times. We will have to establish commercial agreements that take into account these waiting times.”

Kruger Energy is working closely with Peterbilt on this pilot project, too. Experiences along the way have allowed the manufacturer to make valuable technological improvements to the truck.

“From the start, we told Peterbilt that we wanted to have the raw data,” Roy says, so additional equipment was installed to evaluate performance. Kruger Energy sees which of the four drivers consumes the least amount of energy in their journey and why.

“All of this will have value over time, [and] will allow us to optimize battery performance and know how to train drivers,” Roy says.

Software transportes 3000