President Biden, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump, has a rather aggressive plan to address global warming and climate change. His plan is not as aggressive as the green new deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but nonetheless a much-needed plan which will be beneficial to society. The most important part of addressing climate change in anybody’s plan is to stop burning fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas.
Of the three, coal is on the way out already due to economics. The share of electricity production from burning coal has fallen from over half to less than a quarter in just thirty years. It is being replaced by natural gas and increasingly by wind and solar.
To replace crude oil, the majority of which is refined for transportation fuel, will require electrification. Much greater electrification and for that matter expansion of our rail system. This can go a long way by itself but on the road vehicles must be converted to electricity as well.
Tesla automobiles started off the modern movement to electric vehicles, and represent the lion’s share of all-electric vehicles. Right now the total market for electric vehicles (EVs) represents only 1.8 percent of all. This will change in the future as every major vehicle manufacturer and several new companies are developing Evs.
Likely, light utility trucks will lead the way, especially fleet delivery vehicles. They are ideal for the current state of EV development. Right now two problems limit the expansion of the use of EVs, their somewhat limited range and its attendant range anxiety, and the time to recharge the batteries.
Generally, fleet delivery vehicles have a well-defined daily route so the size of the battery can be matched to the specific needs. Likewise, charging time can be planned for when the vehicle is not in use, usually overnight when electric rates are lower.
Long haul over-the-road trucks will take longer to develop as the charging needs for a large truck like a semi are considerable. A diesel-powered semi with a couple of hundred gallons of fuel has a range on the order of a thousand miles. The current leader in the development of electric semis, Tesla, has a truck with a range of five hundred miles and a charging time on the order of half-an-hour.
The move to electric vehicles, especially box trucks and vans is just beginning. Established companies such as Volvo and Freightliner already have delivery vehicles in production. Large corporations such as Walmart and UPS are placing orders. Amazon has invested three-quarters of a billion dollars in a truck startup called Rivian.
Additional advantages of electric propulsion for trucks are the fact that electric motors have essentially one moving part and therefore require much lower maintenance costs and electricity is much cheaper than gasoline and diesel on a per-mile basis.
The ultimate advantage to all of us is that they are much, much cleaner even when charged from the grid as it is becoming increasingly clean. Local air quality is improved and greenhouse gas emissions are decreased.
Dr. Bob Allen is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, Arkansas Tech University.