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Highway to decarbonisation: A look at the Electric Freightway project

Published to the CV Show website on
16/05/2024

There is much for the road transport industry to learn before the end of sale of diesel-powered trucks in 2040, but if companies start out on their electrification journeys now, the road to decarbonise will not have to look so daunting.

Launched last October, the purpose of the Electric Freightway programme is to provide both support and subsidy to hauliers, to see how feasibly and quickly they can decarbonise their fleets given the right conditions.

Funded by the Department for Transport and delivered in partnership with Innovate UK, the project is part of a £200m package of government measures to accelerate the arrival of more zero emission trucks on UK roads.

It aims to lay the foundations for the biggest and most advanced electric Heavy Goods Vehicle (eHGV) charging network in the world with an initial 140 battery electric HGVs provided by DAF and Volvo, alongside up to 220 chargers, 70% of which will be open-access.

Sam Clarke, Chief Vehicle Officer at Gridserve, which will install the EV charging infrastructure for the programme said: “We’re committed to installing 200 chargers over 30 sites.

“However, a lot of the locations we select in the first year will be predicated on what grid connections we already have available or have forthcoming in the timeframe, as well as how much land can be redeveloped to facilitate this game-changing infrastructure.”

This month, consortium member A.F. Blakemore & Son, the retail and wholesale business, that is also the largest SPAR wholesaler in the UK took delivery of the Electric Freightway’s first fully electric eHGVs.

Two Volvo FM Electric tractor units, coupled to refrigerated trailers powered by sustainable Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (HVO), are now operating from the firm’s 175,000 sq ft Bedford depot, directly replacing roles that were previously performed by diesel-powered trucks.

A.F. Blakemore & Son estimates their inclusion in the fleet will save 45,000 litres of diesel and prevent more than 120 tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere each year.

The company’s entire fleet consists of 103 articulated units, 178 trailers and 130 rigid HGV vehicles, and both electric trucks are being drafted straight into delivery duties, with their 540kWh batteries providing a maximum 185-mile range.

Its Bedford depot already has AC charging in place, but Gridserve is working with the haulier to install High Power DC charging that will compress the charging time from several hours to less than two, meaning the eHGVs could be used to double shift, further improving each vehicle’s unit economics.

Dave Higgs, Group Compliance Officer at A.F. Blakemore & Son said: “It’s fantastic to be part of the Electric Freightway programme, but now we have the electric trucks on our fleet, it’s about learning as much as possible from them.

“Initially, we worked with Volvo and our planning team to develop real-world range simulations for our routes, and we’re delighted to see our trucks already outperforming those simulations.

“We are seeing battery efficiency (and range) impacted by the different weights the vehicles carry, the different areas the vehicles are operating in and, of course, driver training is going to be critical.”

As part of the programme, consortium members like A.F. Blakemore & Son have the opportunity to buy or lease eHGVs from the programme’s vehicle manufacturer partners at a vastly subsidised rate.

Electric Freightway principal partner Hitachi ZeroCarbon will analyse routes, vehicle and charging session data, provide range and charging infrastructure monitoring, and evidence-based Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) modelling to support investment business cases for future eHGV deployments.

It may be that urban delivery routes with back-to-base depot charging are prioritised first but, over the life of the programme, and with more confidence in routes and public eHGV charging, the aim is that more use cases will be unlocked.

James Comer, Programme Director at Hitachi ZeroCarbon said: “The data we’re collating across all the different routes is going to help provide that bigger holistic picture necessary to understanding how those vehicles perform.

“The fact we can gather more information over a greater period, compared to both competitors and peers in the industry, will help the future route-mapping and business modelling for this company.”

In March, stakeholders of the Electric Freightway programme gathered at the Gridserve Innovation and Operation Centre to discuss both progress and pinch points to date.

Attendees learned that logistics and haulage consortium members have already pushed orders for electric HGVs into double digits.

Discussions found that in addition to power, availability of physical space is another national challenge, particularly for Motorway Service Areas that are already over-subscribed and mandated to provide a minimum number of HGV parking bays.

In order to install High Power, island-based charging infrastructure Gridserve says it is having to identify and develop fresh parcels of land within existing site boundaries.

For Royal Mail and other commercial operations that rely on contractual deadlines, as well as their vehicle’s battery having the right amount of charge at the right time, Gridserve is also developing a booking system to increase the viability of public eHGV charging.

The complexity around tachograph rules – where drivers cannot be in control of their vehicle when on a break – as well as the variables that come with operating along congested highways are all being systematically dealt with.

Meanwhile, the Electric Freightway team is working with Hitachi ZeroCarbon to summarise the requirements of other operators and identify depot and public charging locations that can be delivered before June 2025.

John Whybrow, eHGV Programme Director for Gridserve said: “The first question we’re asking consortium members is how fast do they need to charge.

“There is a huge difference between the amount of power required to charge six vehicles overnight versus six vehicles that need to double-shift and therefore only have a narrow window to recharge.

“The power requirements of the latter often requires a substation to support, which adds cost, time and complexity.

“The sooner Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) can understand where the loads are going to be, the earlier they can factor these into their future energy scenarios.”

Electrification is currently a huge unknown for many hauliers, but partnering with Electric Freightway represents a shrewd move towards future proofing their businesses as well as a genuine desire to help tackle climate change.

 

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