Volvo, Alison Seek To Clean Up Diesel Truck Emissions With Electric Drivetrains

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The diesel engine has helped usher in one of the most profitable economic expansions in human history, but it has some drawbacks, primarily that the carbon dioxide and oxides of nitrogen belching from the exhaust stacks of diesel-powered trucks have a greater influence on the environment and on human health than their relatively low numbers would suggest.

Then there is the matter of fine particulates, nasty little bits of crud so small they pass directly into the bloodstream in humans, and the lodge in vital organs such as brains, livers, kidneys, gonads, placentas, and other important body parts. [Then again, all body parts are rather important, with the possible exception of the appendix and tonsils.]

Corporations like Volvo Trucks and Alison are aware of the downside associated with diesel engines and are prepared to do something about them by pushing for the transition to battery-electric vehicles instead. That’s not only good for the Earth and those who live on it, it’s also smart business.

Volvo Electric Trucks Replace Diesel Engines

Many diesel-powered heavy duty trucks spend their lives going 50 feet and stopping, 50 feet and stopping, over and over again throughout their useful life. For much of the work day, they are idling before the next bit of forward progress, spewing out those harmful emissions all day every day.

Battery-electric trucks do two things diesel trucks can’t do. They don’t create emissions while standing still, and they employ regenerative braking when slowing down. That puts a little energy back in the battery and it saves wear and tear on brakes — a not inconsiderable burden when bringing a 10-ton truck to halt dozens or even hundreds of times a day.

In a press release, Volvo Trucks says it will collaborate with Bucher Municipal to electrify sewer cleaner trucks. By the end of 2023, the two companies expect to deliver up to 80 fully electric sewer cleaner trucks to cities in Europe. Bucher is a leading supplier of municipal vehicles like street sweepers, winter maintenance equipment, refuse vehicles, and sewer cleaning trucks. It has joined forces with Volvo Trucks to develop an all-electric sewer cleaner built on the Volvo FL Electric truck. Those 80 sewer cleaning trucks represent half of Bucher’s annual production.

“We have optimized the technology from our successful city sewer solution to meet the special requirements for working in urban zones, where regulations regarding CO2 and diesel emissions have been tightened,” says Per Lovring, CEO of Bucher Municipal Denmark. “Electrification of vehicles like ours can be demanding, but Volvo Trucks has proven during many years that they can successfully provide highly reliable and well-documented battery solutions for buses, trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles. Our partnership with Volvo Trucks is a win-win solution,” he says.

Volvo Trucks goal is that electric models will account for half of its truck sales in 2030. Volvo Trucks was the market leader for heavy all-electric trucks in Europe in 2021 with a market share of 42%.

“With this agreement with Bucher Municipal, we are taking a very important strategic step towards electrifying one of the most complicated and demanding tasks in our urban environments. We are proud to have Bucher Municipal as a strategic partner, and we expect the collaboration to bring new insights that contribute to our goal of electrifying all types of applications,” says Volvo Trucks president Roger Alm.

Alison eGen Axle For Heavy Trucks

Alison eGen Axle
Alison eGen Axle. Image credit: Alison Transmission

Alison Transmission is an American manufacturer of drivetrain components for heavy trucks located in Auburn Hills, Michigan. At the IFAT trade fair for heavy duty vehicles in Munich, Germany, at the end of May, it plans to present its new eGen Power electric axles for use in refuse and municipal vehicles. The electric axle drive is designed to replace the traditional driveline in heavy duty diesel trucks.

According to Electrive, the eGen Power has been designed so that the axle fits between the wheels of trucks  — meaning few adjustments to the chassis are necessary. It is a fully integrated built-in solution that is compatible with common vehicle frames, suspensions and wheel connections, which makes it easy to install without significant changes to existing manufacturing applications.

The complete drive system includes an electric drive system, a multi-speed gearbox, oil coolers, and pumps. The electric axle drive is designed to be used in battery-electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, and also hybrid applications, according to Allison. While few details are available, it is believed the eGen axle permits regenerative braking, a major feature that is especially relevant for heavy trucks used in stop/start duty every day.

The announcement by Alison make no mention of batteries, so apparently manufacturers will need to source them independently. However, there is typically plenty of room between the frame rails of heavy trucks to install batteries once the diesel engine, transmission, and driveshaft are deleted. [Magna has a similar device for pickup trucks.]

The Takeaway

Big snorting diesels have played an essential role in heavy trucks for nearly a century. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them. But it is time to move on to cleaner alternatives. Electric trucks like those from Volvo and components like the Alison eGen axle are two significant steps forward in this essential transition.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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