Electric Trucks, Industry Issues, Transport Features

Behind the methods to electric truck uptake in Australia

From Volvo to Team Global Express, solutions continue to be provided by operators and manufacturers to help reduce Australia’s road transport emissions

As the world transitions towards a future that emits less carbon dioxide, governments and policy makers are increasingly focusing on emissions coming from the transport sector. A recent study by Australia-based Transport Energy/Emission Research (TER) found that road transport has produced 85 per cent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Of that number, freight trucks have contributed 27 per cent to it. 

With these emissions now being targeted as part of zero-emissions mandates, solutions are now starting to be provided to help decarbonise Australia’s trucking industry. The study’s lead author and University of Technology Sydney (UTS) adjunct professor Robin Smit says the study suggests that battery electric trucks may hold the key to reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

“We estimate that battery electric trucks can provide deep emissions cuts in the future of about 75 to 85 per cent, and that’s on a lifecycle emissions basis,” Smit told ATN. 

A related article by The Conversation, Why electric trucks are our best bet to cut road transport emissions, follows Smit’s earlier research work report on electric passenger vehicles (EV) in 2022. This previous work showed that passenger EVs can reduce emissions by up to 40 per cent when compared to petrol and diesel vehicles. 

Smit says the current study defined trucks across three different weight classes such as medium and heavy commercial and articulated vehicles. It also looks into different types of powertrains, including conventional diesel, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks. 

Smit’s study included emissions from vehicle manufacturing and disposals and emissions from the production and use of electricity, hydrogen, fossil fuels and maintenance. 

Smit’s research also considered Australia’s unique road conditions. Compared to vehicles in the European Union (EU), Smit says Australian trucks are typically larger and tend to drive more kilometres due to the longer routes required to reach Australian cities.   

Through this collaborative research with other EU experts, Smit says battery electric trucks appear to be the best option when it comes to effectively reducing road transport emissions, particularly as battery and fuel cell systems become more durable. 

“The other thing we found that’s a bit different from other international studies is that hydrogen fuel cell trucks can provide large emissions cuts of about 50 to 70 per cent on average in a decarbonised situation with 90 per cent renewable energy,” Smit says. 

Image: Robin Smit

“However, they still have twice the amount of lifecycle emissions per kilometre compared to a battery electric truck.” 

Throughout Smit’s research, an analysis of Australian sales data from last year suggested that only a handful of trucks sold in Australia were electric. Team Global Express (TGE) environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) director Heather Bone says there’s many reasons why the uptake of these vehicles is lagging. 

One of these reasons is the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an electric truck being double compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE) truck. Bone says this gap presents an opportunity to the federal government to help support operators looking to purchase these trucks and the required infrastructure. 

Bone says the cost of public charging infrastructure, which currently stands at 70 cents per kilowatt hour, has been challenging. Having the right energy management system around the truck has also proven to be difficult. 

“To a certain extent, the truck is actually quite easy to source, it’s the other parts of an energy management system that makes buying them quite challenging,” Bone told ATN. 

Bone says low availability of electric trucks has also seen limited uptake in Australia. Smit says the Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) found only 12 kinds of electric trucks were available in Australia. This is all set to change over the next year. 

In September 2023, the federal government increased Australia’s truck width limit from 2.50 to 2.55 metres. The EVC says this move aligns with standards used by major overseas markets. 

The increased width has seen these global manufacturers update their Australian heavy vehicle lineups to include electric trucks. European manufacturer Volvo has already released its full suite of FE, FL, FN and FH electric trucks into Australia, while Scania has set its sights on releasing its electric prime movers to Australia this year. 

Manufacturers from Asia have also begun unveiling their electric truck range. Isuzu’s new range, which will hit Australian shores in 2024, includes its N Series EV, while Hyundai and Fuso have already started releasing electric trucks to the Australian market. 

With the choice of electric trucks available in Australia increasing, some major operators have started to add the vehicles to their fleet. Earlier this month, DHL Supply Chain announced its decarbonisation strategy after launching its first Volvo FL electric truck in Australia last September. 

Team Global Express has also continued down the electric path. In partnership with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), TGE has started constructing a fully electric depot in Bungarribee, NSW. With 50 out of 60 trucks already on site, Bone says the operator is starting to learn how to optimise these new-age vehicles. 

The impact on our driving and the impression that they’ve given people is noticeable – we’ve got customers who are desperate to see them in action, to see the site and to look at the layout of the infrastructure,” Bone says. 

With road transport accounting for a high percentage of Australia’s emissions, Smit says now is the time to look towards these types of solutions. The next few years is set to see this change happen as more manufacturers import electric trucks onto Australian shores. 

“I think the next year or two is going to be a real turning point in Australia,” Bone says. 

“We’ll hopefully start to see a plethora of OEMs in the market who can provide appropriate support for large fleets, as well as appropriate solutions for one truck operators.” 

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