Michael Berube, acting deputy assistant secretary for transportation at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, outlined the Biden administration’s plans for a more sustainable transportation future on March 10 during a Work Truck Show digital presentation titled “DOE’s Sustainable Transportation Strategy.”
Facing the climate crisis was the hot topic, as Berube noted, “if we don't address this now, it’s something we can't deal with later. It's not something government can do alone. It's not something any one country can do alone. It’s something we have to do together.”
Berube discussed how transportation is critical to the economy, and is also the second largest expense for typical American households.
“A third of the energy we use goes into transportation, but it's actually 50% for the overall energy expenditures,” he clarified.
Transportation is also the largest source of CO2 emissions within the energy sector.
But what does this mean for work trucks?
40%+ of transportation that isn’t light duty is projected to grow rapidly, according to Berube. That includes medium-duty delivery work trucks and short- and long-haul heavy-duty trucks. To address the full range of vehicles that exist, there needs to be a combination of technology used to achieve more environmentally friendly vehicles. While electrification will play a role in some of these sectors, so will hydrogen and biofuels.
In fact, Berube said they may be the only viable options for some sectors. This type of diversification will help improve the resiliency of the overall transportation system. He also stated there needs to be a focus on solutions that can be incrementally deployed and deliver results now.
“In other words, we have to think about what are solutions where if we deliver it partway, we can get some of the benefits now. There's not an all-or-nothing approach. You can't wait to have it all done, and then just turn it on,” he said.
Anticipating and leveraging new mobility solutions will be vital. Recent surveys have shown the average length of a long-haul trip has dropped by over 300 miles over the last 10 years. Driver shortages are making companies keep trucks closer to home.
“If you have more trucks doing shorter trips, and turning back to a central fueling location, that can enable things like hydrogen powered vehicles to make more sense,” he said.
Full lifecycle emissions must be addressed, from production all the way through to the vehicle’s end of life. Thinking about integration with the grid and overall energy infrastructure will also play a role.
“As we think about that grid changing over, having more renewables, having a distributed energy system, the way we think about it will also be important in planning for this transportation system in the future,” he said. “There's going to be tremendous new loads on the grid, but it becomes easier to handle if we plan ahead and provide enough lead time.”
The Big Challenges
- Cost: According to a recent study, regional haul and Class 6 box trucks show battery-electric vehicle (BEV) cost parity before 2030 due to shorter and more dynamic duty cycles, as well as longer ownership period. Long haul appears to reach cost parity just after 2030.
- Manufacturing: More electric trucks are being announced and are entering the market. Battery packs and battery cells are another story. Investments need to be made to attract battery manufacturers to the US.
“If we can create the demand side, I believe the supply side will be there with the right type of support,” he said. New and better technology will help drive down costs.
- Supply Chain: The US has to make sure it has the domestic supply and processing capability for the minerals that go into making a battery.
“A key part of that is developing technologies less reliant on hard-to-get critical minerals. The amount of cobalt in an electric vehicle battery has dropped tremendously. We've been able to get the performance we need out of the vehicle battery by driving that cobalt down, and we'd like to get it to less than 5% of the overall battery. But then there's other critical minerals in there as well that we have to address. So new chemistries will help reduce that,” he explained.
Battery recycling enables manufacturers to get the raw materials back and use them as a new supply source.
- Infrastructure and the Grid: The US has to invest in developing overall infrastructure. Not just EV charging stations, but also hydrogen fueling stations as well.
“We believe that in many cases, trucks work really well for hydrogen because hydrogen fueling stations are very expensive to build, but once you have one, you can fuel vehicles very quickly. If you have centrally controlled retail vehicles and central fueling, that lends itself much better to hydrogen fuel.”
Last year, the DOE’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office established something called the million-mile trucking service. This is a combination of lab R&D and industry collaboration to develop a hydrogen fuel cell truck capable of the million miles of durability, capable from the performance point of view, and cost effective. Their goal is to demonstrate the vehicle can be all of those things combined by 2025.
- Inclusion in the Workforce: New transportation technology creates many new job opportunities. The US must provide the workforce training and job opportunities that can lead to a successful transition for everyone.
“This is a massive effort. But it is one included that we must achieve. Hope is not a plan. Government and industry must do this together.
At the end of the presentation, Kelly Speakes-Backman, acting assistant secretary at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, announced the Office's intent to issue three sustainable transportation technologies funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) in Spring 2021.
More details on these programs can be found here.