Diesel-powered freight trucks play an outsized role in contributing to India’s total greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions. While the country has promoted policies to transition to electric vehicles for buses and transit cars, the batteries capable of powering these large trucks have been too heavy and expensive to make their electrification possible.
A new study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UCLA shows that advances in battery technology and the dramatic decline in battery costs in recent years have been a game-changer. With the right policies and incentives, battery electric trucks would be more affordable to run than diesel, and India could become a world leader in electric vehicle production.
The transition would also help India reduce its reliance on imported oil, improve air quality and achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2070. India imports 88% of the oil it uses and of the total oil consumed by the country’s transport. sector, nearly 60% is used by freight trucks. These trucks are responsible for 71% of carbon dioxide emissions, 74% of particulate emissions and 55% of nitrogen oxide emissions from road vehicles.
“Electric trucks would help boost India’s energy security and reduce freight transportation costs.”
– Nikit Abhyankar, researcher at the Berkeley Lab and author of the report.
“Furthermore, for any decarbonization and air pollution control strategy for the country, electric trucks are essential.”
Compare costs: diesel vs electric
Researchers have begun to rethink the economic possibility of battery electric freight trucks with the dramatic drop in battery costs in recent years. In 2010, the battery cost per kilowatt hour was around $1,200. The current global average is now $120-$135 and is expected to decline. Battery energy density has also improved, making powerful batteries lighter.
To develop an accurate comparison of electric and diesel trucks specific to India, the team studied four sizes of trucks used in the country: 7.5 and 12 metric tons, mainly used for short-haul transport, and 25 and 40 metric tons, mainly used for transporting long distance and heavier goods. They analyzed the initial purchase price, energy and fuel costs, and maintenance and operating costs, including the cost of battery charging infrastructure, to determine the total cost. of ownership.
They found that battery-electric trucks were more cost-effective for all types of trucks, although electrifying heavier trucks was more difficult because they needed larger, heavier batteries. At current battery prices, a 25-ton electric truck, the most commonly used long-haul truck size in India, with a 569-kilowatt-hour battery and an operational range of 400 kilometers could reduce the total cost of possession per kilometer than a diesel truck.
The weight of the batteries could mean electric trucks could haul slightly less freight than diesel, but that could be offset by designing the trucks to be lighter and through fuel savings, the researchers noted.
Benefits beyond trucking costs
Based on India’s current grid emissions, electric trucks would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9% to 35% per kilometer compared to diesel trucks, the researchers found. Electric trucks would also not pollute when traveling through communities. With diesel trucks, this local pollution can hit disadvantaged groups the hardest.
And electric trucks could eventually become carbon neutral if charged with renewable energy, especially solar power when its output is highest, the researchers found. Renewable energy could offer other benefits, they noted. The uncertain price of imported oil makes its dependence a disadvantage and can increase the cost of goods, thus contributing to overall inflation. But the standard payment for renewable energy is a much more stable 25-year power purchase agreement.
Realizing these benefits will require investment from the Indian government over the next few years, the researchers noted. India is one of the largest car producers in the world, but the government will need to promote policies to increase battery manufacturing and the manufacture and adoption of electric vehicles. Policies will also be needed to support the construction of fast charging infrastructure.
“India embarked on some very ambitious electrification policies before that,” said Deepak Rajagopal, report author and researcher at the Berkeley Lab and UCLA. “We see that now is the time to put in place targeted trucking policies.”
In related research published last year, Berkeley Lab scientists determined how battery-electric trains can bring environmental justice, cost reduction and resilience to the United States.
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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the greatest scientific challenges are best met by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been awarded 16 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers are developing sustainable energy and environmental solutions, creating useful new materials, pushing the boundaries of computing, and probing the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists around the world rely on the facilities of the laboratory for their own scientific discovery. Berkeley Lab is a multi-program national laboratory, operated by the University of California for the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The DOE’s Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic physical science research in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.
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