Clean Transport

Published on June 8th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley

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Tesla Co-Founder’s Wrightspeed To Electrify Mack Trucks

June 8th, 2016 by  

Originally published on Gas2.

Wrightspeed gets a lot of love here at Gas2. Founded by Tesla Motors co-founder Ian Wright, the company is doing the same thing Tesla is doing — showing the world how to slash its carbon emissions — but in an entirely different market segment. While Tesla makes gorgeous passenger cars that rival the best from Mercedes and BMW, Wrightspeed concentrates on garbage trucks. The differences between the two approaches could not be more stark. They help explain why Wright walked away from Tesla to found his own company.

Mack Trucks with Wrightspeed powertrain

A truck made for hauling trash can weigh as much as 33 tons fully loaded. It may stop and start hundreds of times in a typical day. That burns a lot of fuel and puts a strain on brakes, transmissions, and engines. An all electric truck with a battery large enough to complete its daily rounds would eliminate carbon emissions, but Ian Wright says it would be so heavy, there would hardly be any capacity left over for hauling a payload.

So he designed a electric truck with about 30 miles of range and a gas turbine auxiliary engine that keeps the battery charged during the day. Running at constant speed, the turbine can be maximized for fuel economy and low emissions. In fact, it meets California’s strict emissions standards with no catalytic converter required.

This week in Las Vegas, Wrightspeed and Mack Trucks will demonstrate a trash truck at the annual Waste Expo show. Not nearly as fancy or glamorous as a Tesla, but the opportunities to cut carbon emissions from the transportation sector are actually greater with trucks than with automobiles. There are a lot more cars on the road, but heavy trucks create a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. Diesel engines also add particulates and nitrous oxide emissions that contribute to smog and health issues.

→ Check out our interview with Ian Wright for Cleantech Talk

Wrightspeed plans to enter regular production by the fall of this year. “Until now we’ve focused on re-power kits that would enable customers to do cost-effective updates to existing vehicles without having to purchase all new,” said CEO Ian Wright. “This program with Mack is our first installation with an OEM.” Wrightspeed is partnering with a New Zealand company to repower its bus fleet as well. The first of those installations are underway at present.

Roy Horton, director of product strategy for Mack Trucks, says. “We’re going to do internal testing first with this truck to evaluate it before potentially doing some customer testing later. We see the potential for cost-effectiveness in the Wrightspeed system.”

Although diesel fuel remains historically inexpensive today, tighter fuel economy and emissions regulations in the future will make diesels less appealing. Wright says that fuel savings combined with lower maintenance costs will pay for his system in 3 to 4 years. After that, they will pay significant dividends for fleet operators for the rest of a vehicle’s normal 12 year useful life.

Here’s one more factor to consider: Mack Trucks is now owned by global vehicle manufacturer Dong Feng. Wright says his company already has a backlog of orders valued at $40 million. If the world of commercial vehicles becomes convinced that the Wrightspeed system is the key to a profitable, low-carbon future, that backlog could grow exponentially.

Source: Forbes


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About the Author

writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



  • Ed

    This is a fabulous application of technology. My hopes:
    1. A successful implementation will encourage governments to tighten emission standards for large vehicles.
    2. There will be an opportunity to invest in Wrightspeed.
    Well done, Mr. Wright!

  • neroden

    I suspect Wright is actually wrong about the potential of pure battery-electric garbage trucks in the *long* run. Garbage trucks have a relatively gentle duty cycle, typically running less than 8 hours a day (with a legally mandated hour-long lunch break for the workers, too, so that’s two 4 hour shifts at most). And they carry relatively light payloads (garbage isn’t actually that heavy). I suspect it’s going to be possible to get enough batteries to make a viable battery-electric garbage truck relatively soon.

    But for now, a serial hybrid is a good solution, and certainly preferable to the mechanical-transmission gasoline or diesel engines which are currently used.

  • Larmion

    One of the coolest things about Wrightspeed’s Fulcrum turbine is that it can run on sour gas (untreated landfill gas).

    It’s damn cheap, and it’s a nice irony that the product of a century of waste mismanagement can now power the garbage industry 🙂

    • neroden

      Ooooh. I’ve been saying that landfill gas is the future of “natural gas”. Landfill gas will be around for the forseeable future, and is actually classified as renewable energy…

      • Larmion

        Yep. And if you can use without scrubbing/upgrading the gas, it’s even more attractive.

  • James Adams

    Steve,
    Mack trucks is owned by AB Volvo, Sweden. AB Volvo owns several different companies including Mack trucks and Volvo trucks NA.
    The Volvo Car division is owned by Dong Feng.

    • James Adams

      Correction, Volvo car is owned by the Geely group.

  • Jens Stubbe

    MACK is wholly owned by Volvo and Volvo already have a electric truck development program.

    Electric trucks are only relevant for cities where they lower point emissions and decrease noise pollution.

    The CO2 emissions from electric trucks will almost certainly be higher than for standard counterparts in most parts of the globe and this will continue for years until the renewable share of electricity generation increases significantly and coal power is out phased.

    • neroden

      It’s absolutely certain that CO2 emissions from electric trucks are *much lower* than for diesel counterparts in *almost all of the globe* when the trucks are running a start-stop city duty cycle.

      The emissions which are avoided by *not idling* and by *regenerating when slowing down* are massive and outweigh pretty much all other considerations when you look at a start-stop city duty cycle. These emissions are pure waste, and they are simply eliminated. You can think of an electric truck as emitting the same amount or slightly more than a diesel truck when accelerating but emitting *nothing at all* when decelerating or stopped, and that lowers CO2 emissions by a *lot*.

      (Long haul trucks are another matter.)

      • Jens Stubbe

        Nope that is not absolutely certain.

        I am a great supporter of Electric trucks for cities and especially busses since I am a keen bicyclist and have a Copenhagen office.

        If you can suggest any numbers to support your assumption I would appreciate that.

        I was the project manager in charge for Post Danmark during the mid nineties and did a lot of analysis on that subject including campaigning a lot for electric bikes.

        Denmark has always had top notch power plants and for decades a large percentage of wind power but still the numbers did not stack up for electric vehicles unless you had a particular charge regime.

        If I then could have presented GHG positive numbers my companies could have had the chance to design the vehicles so I really did a careful job.

        When we redesigned their signage and offices we achieved approximately 90% less energy consumption so it was not for lack of trying.

        I also did a project for DSB (Danish railroads) where we built electric locomotives able to operate in both Sweden and Denmark. In a standard locomotive there is a Diesel generator that generate electricity and a electric motor (a hybrid if you like). The electric trains did not lower GHG emissions right away despite lowering power consumption by a factor 2,3.

        Now 52% of electric generation is from wind turbines and biomass, solar etc. also contribute so electrification pays of on GHG.

        A good friend who managed the storage research in Vestas is now heading up the electrification of the rest of the Danish railroads.

        The mayor in Copenhagen has just made a decision that all busses will be electric despite that it involves extra cost because Copenhagen aims to be carbon neutral asap. Hofor where a good friend is the CEO delivers electricity, NG and district heating and have accelerated the transition to 100% renewable energy.

        I also have a good friend that has built his own electric beverage delivery truck, which he has offered to me for free after having spent roughly $400.000 on the project.

  • swaan

    I simply do not buy that they can’t be done as pure electric at least for city use. How on earth BYD and Proterra can carry the same amount of people as diesel buses but you can’t carry the same amount of garbage?

    • Carl Raymond S

      Agree, it’s just a bang for buck calculation. With buses, they get extra utility on the drive battery because it creates a smoother ride, happier passengers and everybody gets a warm inner glow from having no exhaust and being part of a peaceful leading-edge city. On a garbage truck, you’re still associated with trash and banging bins, not matter how great the drive system.

    • I would recommend listening to our podcast interview with Ian Wright. He responds to this topic. http://cleantechnica.com/2015/04/06/interviewing-wrightspeed-founder-early-tesla-employee-ian-wright-cleantech-talk-podcast/

    • Roger Lambert

      I wonder what this says to those folks here who say that extra weight means very little re the performance of EV cars – that regenerative braking is so efficient a 20% weight increase means very little.

      I think it means that the cost of inertia is still high? You still have to get that extra 20% moving from standstill and that is a big penalty. More of an issue, probably, with the garbage trucks which are constantly stopping and going.

    • Freddy D

      These things are purely urban stop and go use. The fuel cost and brake wear and tear and engine wear and tear for commercial stop and go vehicles is very costly. The day that BEV truly have a lower total cost of ownership the operators will convert.

      There are no technical barriers remaining – making a big enough battery pack can certainly be done.

      • neroden

        Actually, the operators are mostly not converting yet, even though BEVs already have a lower total cost of ownership.

        The reason is twofold:
        (1) BEV costs are front-loaded. Operators value a dollar now more than a dollar saved two years from now, probably more than they should. Short-term thinking.
        (2) BEVs don’t have enough of a track record for operators to *trust* their reliability ten years in the future.

        Once BEVs have a proven reliability record at a few companies or agencies, *then* we’ll see mass conversion.

        • Freddy D

          Agree on the “track record” side. On front loaded side, it depends on the operator. Government agencies have some pretty irrational financial behavior, particularly transit agencies with different “buckets” of money earmarked for capital vs operation costs. UPS and Fedex, on the other hand, behave pretty rationally, looking st TCO and cost of capital. If the TCO is truly better, they will find the capital.

          Today, the TCO argument is perhaps parity on a good day. Parity isn’t sufficient to really move a market IMHO. As TCO becomes ridiculously compelling, things should really move. What’s bizzare to me is that they hybrid has been ridiculously compelling for years yet manufacturers have dithered on offerings. BEVs will leapfrog this and punish manufacturers who don’t get on board early.

    • Larmion

      A typical city bus weighs around 11 tonnes empty. Add in 70 passengers at 75kg each and you get to 16 tonnes. That’s half of what a fully loaded garbage truck weighs according to the article. And the bus doesn’t have a trash compactor to power alongside the vehicle, and doesn’t stop nearly as frequently.

      Unless you could have some sort of top-up charging via induction or pantograph, I’m not sure if a fully electric garbage truck is realistic with current battery density and cost.

      • neroden

        Mmmm, powering the trash compactor would be a substantial power draw; I hadn’t thought about that.

        The more frequent stops and slower top speed is actually an *advantage* in converting the garbage truck to electric, relative to the city bus — frequent stops and low speed are the best duty cycle for an all-electric design.

        • Larmion

          Starting a vehicle from standstill still means overcoming inertia and static friction, which increase power consumption.

          The difference between smooth driving and start-stop is much bigger for an ICE vehicle than for an electric one due to the absence of regenerative braking. But it’s still more economical to drive at a more or less constant pace than to start-stop even for an EV.

          Garbage trucks have very high peak power draw. Imagine starting a 33 tonne vehicle from standstill while powering a trash compactor. That sort of peak power draw just doesn’t mesh well with existing batteries (unless you’d use a capacitator or something similar, but that adds to the cost).

  • Brunel

    This is what Musk should have done first.

    Musk admits that there was a 90% probability that Tesla would go bankrupt.

    • Carl Raymond S

      I’d rather see Tesla cracking a problem that forces the pubic sit up and take notice. To avoid catastrophic climate change the world has to change, fast. People need to see that change is possible, it makes things better, and it’s happening now whether they like it or not (the ‘not’ sector comprising people whose living is affected).

      • Brunel

        I think the article says trucks pollute more?

        And Musk has said that Tesla was highly likely to fail.

        The Prius and Volt were there before Tesla. Just needed batteries to keep coming down in price.

        • Carl Raymond S

          It says ” ..heavy trucks create a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. Diesel engines also add particulates and nitrous oxide emissions that contribute to smog and health issues.”

          Different people are green for different reasons. My overarching fear is that we take the world to a place we can’t recover from – runaway climate change. Particulates, schmickulates, yes, they might reduce longevity in places, but we do that anyway – smoking, overeating, under exercising, and it’s a problem that will eventually be solved anyway, so I don’t give it a single brain cell.

          The key word is disproportionate, so the article isn’t saying that trucks pollute more, it’s probably saying that kg.km for kg.km (a kilogram transported a kilometer), a truck pollutes more than a car (or it may mean km for km, which isn’t a fair comparison – obviously a single truck can’t compete with a single car for lower emissions). But because there are way more cars on the road, cars are still the bigger problem.

          • Freddy D

            As an example, I had heard (admit I’ve not run the calculations) that the aluminum body on the F150 does more to reduce co2 emissions than all priuses sold. If you look at the sales volumes of trucks and the MPG, and the miles driven per year, one quickly sees that’s a huge slice of the petroleum consumption pie.

          • Matt

            Of course since truck are 3 or 4 of the top 10 “CARS” in the USA that would be true. But then again at least 80% of those are never used as a truck. So if we would do a yearly fee based on weight to get tags, like in Holland most of those sales would go away. Which would have a much large impact than Aluminum or carbon fiber in all the trucks.

          • Freddy D

            Yes. In fact, the US financially incentivizes these trucks by making them immune to a variety of regulations that cars must meet. So pickups are incredibly inexpensive in the US.

            A vehicle tax by weight is an interesting idea. (of course, the Model S would get hit pretty hard…)

          • FruityPimpernel

            “Particulates, schmickulates, yes, they might reduce longevity in places but we do that anyway – smoking, drinking, overeating, under-exercising, and it’s a problem that will eventually be solved anyway, so I don’t give it a single brain cell.”

            Carl, while I might agree with you that runaway climate change is an emergency, I cannot dismiss, as you do, air pollution. This is an immediate and a severe emergency costing 3m lives a year globally owing to outdoor air pollution and traffic is a big part of that along with coal burning.

            People in Delhi, Beijing etc and huge swaths of territory blanketed in smog across Asia would love the choice to die by overeating/drinking etc. Or not to.

            So, presumably, would the unborn who are stillborn owing to particulate pollution.

            Aside from the purely human toll – lost dads, mothers, brothers, daughters, breadwinners, carers of the young and the old to respiratory/cardiovascular ill health – the savings made on healthcare alone and lost human capital should settle the point.

            So when it comes to traffic I say: tackle the two with equal urgency. Be pragmatic (kill diesels fast – begin now by slapping all manner of taxes on them, ban them entirely in urban areas, deploy EV cars and hybrid cars and commercial vehicles at scale fast).

            Spend the money saved through lower health bills and the higher taxes earned through higher productivity on accelerating the fight against climate change.

          • Carl Raymond S

            Poor choice of words on my part, and I’m glad somebody is on the case.

        • BennyJJ

          My guess is that the public transport and trucking industries were going to change, whether or not Musk got involved. Businesses make financial decisions and once the costs come down for electric, they’d jump in. Consumers make emotional decisions and needed a kick in the pants from someone like Tesla to show that EVs could be practical and sexy. Or maybe Musk, who bought a McLaren F1 after PayPal just wanted to make a cool car

          • neroden

            The financials for public transport are sufficiently compelling that three different bus companies are actively producing competitive city-bus products in the US market, and they all seem to be doing relatively well.

            I’m not sure why the panel-van market is moving so slowly. They carry really light payloads and have similar start-stop cycles to city buses. I’ve read that both UPS and FedEx are intensely interested in battery-electrics, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet, and I’m not sure why.

        • No, the Volt was inspired by the Tesla Roadster. And the Prius is really just an efficient gasmobile. Toyota still isn’t keen to move to plugs.

          • Freddy D

            Plus a big push from folks like “who killed the electric car” and “plug in hybrids – the car that will save America”, etc.

            Edit: I saw Toyota now has a hybrid RAV4 – long overdue IMHO

          • Michael B

            What’s overdue is their mass production of the RAV4-EV, which people RAV-ED about. Instead, it was built in limited numbers as a compliance vehicle and then discontinued. Shame on Toyota. I wonder if we’ll ever hear the truth about why they refused to embrace BEVs, and became fools instead. Is it (really) that they just didn’t want to undermine Prius sales?

          • Brunel

            I think Obama forced GM to make the Volt in return for a bailout.

          • Bob_Wallace

            You got that exactly backwards. The Administration people working with GM on the bailout pushed dropping the Volt. GM insisted on keeping it alive.

          • Shane 2

            Clutz badgered GM into making the Volt after seeing what Tesla did with the Roadster.

    • swaan

      I agree with Carl here – people only truly believe in personal experiences. How often do you even see garbage trucks? Do you know anyone who has been in one?

      Garbage trucks will never have that kind of publicity that Tesla does.

      • Freddy D

        And yet each one is driven tens of thousands of miles per year at about 3 or 4 MPG. add all commercial vehicles like this and it’s s big deal for CO2.

        Add to that: most organizations who operate commercial vehicles are very economically rational – if the total cost of ownership is lower then they go for it. Consumers, one can demonstrate, are much more emotional and less economically driven on vehicle choices and usage.

    • Well, I think both things were needed. Am happy that Ian decided early on to leave Tesla and make a broader difference by starting Wrightspeed. Great stuff.

      • Harry Johnson

        Exactly. Why does it need to be a competition between clean energy industries? We need ALL of the above and we needed it yesterday.

  • Freddy D

    Wrightspeed sure has taken some time to get to market. The idea of hybrid stop-and-go heavy trucks seems like an economic no brainer because of the huge fuel and maintenance costs. Garbage, UPS, mail, Amazon, transit buses, the list goes on and on. The market is developing albeit very slowly.

    Toyota could do this in a heartbeat with a supersized prius drive train.

    Anyone understand why this hasn’t taken off long ago?

  • J.H.

    Yes, I had to refer back to Kyle’s post http://cleantechnica.com/2016/05/03/tesla-cars-byd-electric-trucks/ . Great read. There is a huge market in the light to medium
    range EV’s with fixed daily routes. US Mail, UPS, ect. May be Mack will take a page from the BYD play book, and step up into the market place.

  • J.H.

    When Mack Trucks perfects the large truck EV industry. They should not overlook the untapped market of light duty trucks. They would own the market, similar to Tesla owning their market. My advice, its cheaper to scale up.

    • JamesWimberley

      BYD have a plain BEV light truck already on the market. For payloads of three tons or so, it may not be worthwhile to go to the expense of a range extender. The other way to go is fast high-power recharging; garbage trucks have fixed routes like buses, so you would only need a limited number of recharging points.

      • Matt

        But their route changes every day since they cover every spot in town.

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