Transport News, Truck Technology

Scania puts first solar powered hybrid truck to the test

Trucking giant Scania has revealed updates on a major milestone overseas as it continues to make strides on its solar powered hydrogen truck project

In overseas news, Scania has announced that it is putting its first solar-powered hydrogen truck model to the test in a bid to introduce the new technology to global trucking.

For a small team of dreamers and academics working together on Scania’s solar-powered truck development project, this vision is taking baby steps toward becoming reality.

Since late 2019 the manufacturer has been earnestly pursuing the idea of using solar power to help power the batteries required to keep electric trucks on the road.

Scania project manager Eric Falkgrim says the cutting-edge concept shows real promise for the future of transport.

“When we first began thinking about this more than three years ago, our starting point was the lithium-ion batteries that are used in battery-electric trucks,” he says.

“In the time that Scania has been working with that technology, we’ve seen the batteries become lighter, cheaper and more energy dense.

“We asked ourselves: ‘What if solar cells show a similar trend? If the efficiency of the cells doubles, the cost halves or drops away a lot, is there a breakeven point?’ We wanted to find out if it makes sense to develop this technology.”

Scania reports than after an initial six-month pre-study in late 2019 and early 2020 it believed it made sense to explore the technology. With the help of funding from the Swedish state innovation agency Vinnova, a full-scale project began in January 2021, with solar cell development by Uppsala University.

A complete working model of a solar electric heavy truck has been built and is about to go into trials with Scania freight partner Ernst Express for testing on Swedish roads.

Not only with testing in Sweden keep the truck close to its team, the thinking is simple – if a solar truck can work in Sweden’s often dark, cloudy and cold environment – it should work even better in sunnier environments such as Australia.

“We specifically wanted to see if it made sense in Sweden because if you go to places such as Southern Europe, Australia or North Africa, there’s obviously a lot more sunshine,” Falkgrim says.

“If it can work here in the less sunny and somewhat darker conditions then that would confirm the widespread validity of the project.”

A small team of about 12 people, including software developers, hardware developers and project managers have been involved in the project over the past 19 months, taking a start-up approach to identifying an opportunity and puzzling out potential ways of delivering on it.

“We knew very early on what we wanted to do. The overall task seems simple – putting solar panels on a truck and plugging it in to the electrical system,” Falkgrim says.

“But it’s a little bit of a wild and crazy idea because it comes with a lot of new hardware and software systemisation and development, to make it safe to handle the transfer of power, and to handle faults.

“The plug-in hybrid truck/tractor with all the ‘regular systems’ (100 kWh energy storage) is connected to the trailer with additional batteries, which have 200 kWh energy storage and act as a ‘power bank’ for the truck, and they’re connected to the solar panel box that charges the power bank.

There’s also the challenge of finding the right solar panels to work in a mobile environment.

“They’re designed to sit stationary on top of a house for 20 or 30 years. We’ve had to address safety challenges in putting solar panels on a vehicle,” Falkgrim says.

“So, it’s fairly involved from a technical point of view, but we don’t have that pressure of it being a full-scale project where we’re producing something that will be sold globally to hundreds and thousands of customers.

“It’s a research project that’s about seeing if the solution makes sense, and, so far, we believe it does.”

While a solar truck could deliver true efficiency to the transport world – the researchers believe this method of energy generation may also have a broader benefit for the world’s power grids.

“This could have repercussions for the energy industry,” Falkgrim says.

“If you scale up the solution you could have thousands of vehicles connected to the grid, so this could have implications for buying and selling electricity to and from the grid.

“I think there’s a natural development in the industry where energy provision and the transport industry are growing together.

“There’s a real symbiosis with electrical vehicles. You can produce your own electricity and you can drive on your own electricity, which is a completely new situation.”

Though a commercial application for the truck is some years away, Falkgrim is excited about the handover to Ernst Express and by the long-term prospects of solar-cell technology.

“The data we already have says that solar panels do contribute significantly to the energy you’re getting for the truck, and it’s one part of the overall puzzle when it comes to decarbonised transport.

“The first thing we need to find out is ‘does this make sense?’ And to answer that: yes, it’s good enough to work on the scale that we are doing now.”


Previous ArticleNext Article
  1. Australian Truck Radio Listen Live
Send this to a friend