Renault rolled in to COP21 with 2 giant announcements to share with the world. No, seriously, Renault brought 2 giant clean energy heavy trucks to the Climate Summit to show off the fruits of their labors. The first innovative heavy truck is the Renault Trucks D. It is a 16-ton all-electric truck that is currently being tested by Speed Division Logistique for Guerlain. The second truck is the Maxity Electric 4.5-ton truck that uses a hydrogen fuel cell and was displayed at the French Post Office.
An earlier effort we shared that the US Department of Energy kicked off called the SuperTruck Initiative was focused on improving the freight efficiency of our current blended fleet of diesel, diesel hybrid, natural gas, and natural gas hybrid trucks specifically because all-electric heavy trucks are not a good bang for the buck. Basically, the tech doesn’t pay out in most cases today, but there are still a few niche markets where they do already pay out, like in shipping yards. Most importantly, though, is the fact that electric vehicle battery prices are dropping quickly and forecasted to continue to fall, reaching $100/kWh around 2020.
This naturally opens up the range of applications where electric heavy trucks make good financial sense as an investment (regardless of whether or not people care about emissions), which brings us back to the new product announcements Renault made at COP21. The Renault Trucks D all-electric truck that was on display is a part of a trial being run that actually started a year ago in Paris with Guerlain. I love that this is being done in direct partnership with another company and actually in response to a downstream customer need, not just based on internal product development and testing — primarily, because I’m not a large multinational company and, yet, I feel a need to create positive change in my own life while at the same time catalyzing change in others.
It is worth noting that this specific truck carries out the full 200-km delivery route as an all-electric vehicle but, along the way, takes advantage of partial recharges throughout the day. This is a good example of developing unique routing/charging solutions to meet an ethical/emissions need while also continuing to run the business. It also shines a bright light on the need for larger battery packs which will become increasingly more approachable as prices continue to fall.
The fuel cell truck on display was chosen by Symbio FCell, La Poste, McPhy Energy, and the Compagnie National du Rhône (CNR) to highlight what they have accomplished with zero-emission (at the point of use) hydrogen fuel cell tech. There are still significant drawbacks to the way hydrogen is produced for hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles – specifically, the well-to-wheel emissions are on par with current gasmobiles. Compared to a 23 mpg Lexus, data we shared in an in-depth article on the matter shows that the “average FCV tested by NREL already produces 73.5% of the emissions with less than half of the power.” As such, most auto manufacturers are focusing their R&D dollars on battery electric vehicles — though, there are still a few holdouts. Notably, Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are pushing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and they receive their fair share of criticism for it — even from the likes of VW (though, it has no room to talk today).
Back to the new Renault vehicle, Renault Trucks has similarly partnered with the French Post Office in a long-term test of a 4.5-ton Renault T electric truck powered by a hydrogen fuel cell developed by Symbio FCell, which doubles the vehicle’s operating range, extending it to 200 km. Utilizing a fuel cell extends the range of a previous battery-electric version and allows for much faster “recharging” times, since the time taken to refuel a vehicle with hydrogen is comparable to that of a vehicle running on diesel.
As the march towards a clean energy transportation future continues, Renault Trucks is looking forward and is testing several different technologies under actual operating conditions with a goal of developing a cost-effective, zero-emission solution for its customers by 2020. While it’s apparent that no products exist today that are able to replace our current fleet of transportation vehicles, the solutions that are being built today for testing are very promising, especially when one puts an eye towards the future price of batteries.
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