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Truckers Promote Alternatives to EVs

3 min read

Electric vehicles are a great idea for the private automobile sector but not so much for the trucking industry.

That is the near-unanimous opinion of trucking officials, and a recent report by the American Transportation Research Institute backs them up. The ATRI, a nonprofit research group covering the trucking industry, studied renewable diesel fuel as an alternative to traditional diesel and battery EVs. 

The ATRI concluded that switching to renewable diesel would better reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the trucking industry. The transportation industry is responsible for nearly 29% of the nation’s GHG emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ahead of electric utilities, which are responsible for 24.8%.

Andrew Boyle, the chairman of the American Trucking Associations, said people need to remember that most electricity is still produced by GHG-emitting fossil fuels. Boyle, the co-president of Boyle Transportation in Billerica, Massachusetts, was set to give the State of the Industry address at the Arkansas Trucking Association’s annual meeting last week in Rogers.

The ATRI says converting long-haul trucking from traditional diesel-powered trucks to EVs would cost more than $1 trillion in infrastructure and vehicle costs. Fueling trucks with renewable diesel would cost $203 billion and achieve the same benefits.

“The environmental consequences of rare-earth minerals and other inputs of raw materials for the EV truck” should should also be considered, Boyle said.

Generally 8.5 pounds of material — typically vegetable oil, animal fat or other wastes — are required to make one gallon of renewable diesel, which is chemically identical to traditionally petroleum diesel, according to the ATRI. The U.S. has 17 renewable diesel plants in 11 states producing 3 billion gallons of renewable diesel annually.

The trucking industry used 2.87 billion gallons of renewable diesel in 2023, a 66% increase from 1.72 billion gallons in 2022. Renewable diesel use has increased 500% since 2018.

Switching to renewable diesel would be easier because the infrastructure is already in place. A massive overhaul would be required to build the infrastructure to keep electric trucks running. Where trucks stop to fuel with petroleum diesel, they could simply fuel with renewable diesel instead. 

The trucking industry also complains that EV trucks have a range of just 150 to 250 miles with the latest technology; a diesel-tractor, either traditional or renewable-fueled, can go 1,000 miles before refueling, according to the ATRI.

“Diesel tractors can spend 15 minutes fueling anywhere in the country and then travel about 1,200 miles before fueling again,” Arkansas Trucking Association President Shannon Newton said.

Building an electric charging infrastructure will require a lot of acreage in an industry already struggling to find ample space for trucks to park, Boyle said. The Arkansas Department of Transportation’s Aaron Pinedo said that building a four-port charging station for cars, which ARDOT is doing throughout the state, generally costs about $1 million. 

Those stations are going in at grocery stores and gas stations. A charging station for heavy trucks would require much more space, and charging a truck takes many more hours.

Boyle said diesel distribution is everywhere now, so fueling equal numbers of EV rigs would require fast-charging ports and acres of space. “In contrast to passenger vehicles where you can leverage existing parking and electrical charging, you have no such thing with tractor trailers,” Boyle said. “You need 150 and 200 feet of space and since the charging takes hours, you’re going to need … more parking spots. It takes so long that every parking spot would need chargers and then you need more parking spots.”

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