Truck Stops Are Very Big In America — Could Battery Swapping Be An Option For Charging All Those Trucks?

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One of my favorite musicians is the legendary Chimurenga music icon Thomas Mapfumo, from Zimbabwe. Due to the heated political environment in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s (it still is, you can say), Thomas Mapfumo moved to the US.  Although he had traveled to perform in the US several times before settling there, I assume living there gave him a whole new perspective and appreciation of the landscape. This probably inspired him (I assume) to record one of my all time favorite songs from him. The song is called Big In America. In Big In America, Mapfumo sings about the large interstate roads and infrastructure and also just how big everything is in America. The pickup trucks and SUVs are huge compared to trucks in most places. Big cities with big buildings in America. I am always amazed walking along the supermarket aisles to see that even the sodas and packets of chips (crisps, not French fries), biscuits (cookies), and doughnuts are huge.

Last month during my visit to the US, I went on a 4-hour drive with a friend of mine. During the drive we decided to take a break at one of the truck stops. We stopped at a Pilot Flying J and I was just amazed at just how big these facilities are in terms of parking spaces and how many trucks park there. Pilot Flying J has over 750 locations in 44 states and six Canadian provinces and is the largest network of travel centers in North America. Amazed at seeing all those trucks parked at one truck stop, I looked on the internet to see which is the largest truck stop of them all in terms of parking spaces, and it’s Iowa80 with 900 parking spaces. 900! Everything is Big In America, after all it is a big country and trucking is big business in the US. The US trucking industry hauled 72.2% of all freight transported in the country in 2021, equating to 10.93 billion tons, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

Being at the Pilot Flying J and seeing all those massive trucks really got me thinking about how the evolution to electric in that industry and especially the charging infrastructure at such massive trucks stops will evolve. As more trucks get electrified, they will probably get megawatt-hour-capacity battery packs and charging speeds ranging from about 350 kW to 1 MW and even faster in future. Now looking at the big truck stops and depending on how busy they can get, and looking at it simplistically, having say 50 stalls at the very big truck stops, that’s 50 x (350 kW to 1 MW) for charging, which is 17.5 MW to 50 MW!

50 MW is like a small town, and let’s say we roll out this 50-stall set up at 1,000 truck stops, that’s like upgrading or developing new substations and associated grid infrastructure for 1,000 “new” small towns. This is a big opportunity for players in this industry and the associated downstream industries, with loads of job creation opportunities and a boost to the local economy. I have just looked at it from a general view, but you can have a look at this report from Nationalgrid on “Accelerating and Optimizing Fast-Charging Deployment for Carbon-Free Transportation” for a more detailed analysis.

The “slower” 350 kW and below could work just fine depending on the need for drivers to rest on long journeys. However, could another model now be entering an era where it could be another viable option?

Battery swapping! Battery swapping has made a big comeback, especially in China, for electric cars popularized by companies like NIO. How about battery swapping for big lorries? A look down under could show us the way.

In Australia, Janus Electric is promoting what it calls revolutionary exchangeable batteries to power electric heavy vehicles, which are changed in just four minutes. These are charged at a Janus Electric Charge & Change Station and all powered by renewable energy sources like solar or wind. Janus Electric also says that the Janus (patent pending) Change & Charge Station utilises renewable energy to provide a three-way system — grid to battery, battery to battery, and battery to grid. This enables renewable energy to be fed back into the grid, assisting to balance and minimize surges and outages.

Janus says its fleet electrification solution will provide for up to a 60% reduction in maintenance and operating costs over the vehicle’s lifetime. Electrification means no oil changes, no oil filters, no air filters, and no fuel filters, and a massive reduction of heat also extends the life of brakes and tires. Operationally, fleets are also cheaper to run as the cost of electricity is cheaper than diesel per km.

The company website shows the following estimates:

Cost per kilometer — diesel: $0.96

Cost per kilometer — Janus Electric: $0.33

Existing trucks can be converted to use the Janus electrification platform. Janus said that it is able to convert any existing prime mover, turning it into an electric vehicle, and this significantly reduces the need for capital investment in completely new vehicles.​ Janus estimates that converting existing diesel-powered trucks with Janus Electric technology can reduce capital costs by up to 70%. At the moment, Janus can deliver the manual conversion process in a week, and with automation, they believe this can be done in a much shorter timeframe.

Janus has already done conversions for cement trucks to electric in Australia. A Kenworth T410 Glider was converted by Janus Electric into a battery-electric vehicle and is now called the Janus JE410. In this model, the fuel tanks were replaced with swappable batteries (620 kWh total capacity), The truck now has a 350 kW electric motor that produces 490 horsepower attached to a 12-speed gearbox. The truck has a range of 400 to 600 kilometers. Janus Electric now has 5 converted semis on the road, with 60 more booked to be transformed from diesel to battery electric, and over 150 expressions of interest.

I am looking forward to seeing how this battery swapping for big trucks evolves. As the world races to decarbonize the transport sector, we need all the options for electrification explored and viable ones expedited, especially in sectors that are a major contributor of emissions, such as the trucking industry.

Images courtesy of Janus Electric

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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since.

Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has 754 posts and counting. See all posts by Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai