4 Min ReadMay 14, 2024

You've Heard About Electric Trucks? Well, Electric Trailers May Come First

stylized closeup of a heavy truck

Developments in electric heavy-duty trucks have occurred at a fast pace, to say the least. Improvements in battery weight and vehicle range are beginning to make electric rigs attractive for a variety of duty cycles including terminal tractors, vans, step vans, medium-duty box trucks, and heavy-duty tractors used in regional haul applications.

But what may eventually steal the show is being lugged behind: the electrification of truck trailers. Adding EV tech to trailers will theoretically boost the total range and overall performance of an electric truck. Here’s what you need to know about electric trailers.

Electric Trailers Can Boost Semitruck Fuel Economy

The most notable development is from Range Energy, a major player in the burgeoning market for powered trailers for the heavy-duty truck market. The company recently announced $23.5 million in new funding from Trousdale Ventures, UP.Partners, R7 and Yamaha Motor Ventures. Range Energy says that the money will be used to amp up (pun intended) pilot testing programs in parallel with movement toward full-scale production of electric-powered trailers.

The Range 53-foot trailer has a 200-kilowatt-hour battery and an 800-volt e-axle powertrain that the company says can put out up to 10,326 pound-foot of torque through the rear wheels. The RA-01 trailer can work with electric- or diesel-powered tractors, with no modifications needed. Mesilla Valley Transportation Solutions, a fuel-economy testing firm, found that the technology enables up to a 36.9% gain in fuel efficiency, which equates to an increase of 3.25 mpg for semitrucks. The company says its trailers also can double the range of electric semitrucks.

With any new technology come questions about maintenance and service. According to Ali Javidan, Range founder and CEO, “Overall, Range trailers are expected to extend the service intervals for the tractor and trailer brakes because of regenerative braking and reduced friction brake usage.”

Regenerative braking is an energy recovery mechanism that slows down a moving vehicle without the use of the foundation brake and then uses that energy to help recharge the vehicle’s batteries. Because the brakes are used less often, brake pad life is extended.
He adds, “Further, they lessen the amount of work or stress on the tractor engine and drivetrain. We expect these changes to free up service personnel to spend more time on higher value and more strategic maintenance, repair and overhaul tasks for fleets.”

Javidan says the company’s trailer won’t disrupt standard vehicle preventive maintenance schedules. Obviously, normal trailer maintenance procedures will still need to be performed. This includes inspecting tires for signs of wear and damage, ensuring that all trailer lights are functioning properly, and lubricating moving parts such as door hinges and locks. And, of course, it’ll continue to be important to clean the trailers regularly to prevent rust and corrosion from developing.

Electric Trailers Do Have Some Downsides

The trailers are heavier than standard trailers and that can impact tire wear. Javidan says that by adding an additional drive axle on the tractor-trailer, the company’s trailers will be able to distribute tractive load across more contact patches. The company is exploring the optimal trade-offs between the assist (the support the electric propulsion provides the equipment) and tire wear.

Range is also continuing to work on the tire wear issue and attended the recent Technology & Maintenance Council Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition where company officials met with all major tire manufacturers. The company says it’s working with tire manufacturers on tire testing and selection to address tire wear issues.

As with electric trucks, electric trailers will cost more than current trailer models. And given that cargo theft has spiked — up 57% in 2023 over 2022 — there’s a heightened concern about trailer security. Range says it’s built in additional security measures beyond those typically found on standard trailers. This includes live telematics to monitor location, remote monitoring and lockout capability on the eAxle to prevent theft. “The on-board energy storage of the trailer means that these security measures can be powered more continuously and for longer durations than on conventional trailers,” Javidan says.

Future Trailers Could Even Have Their Own Propulsion Systems

Other developments in the trailer electrification space are focused on the hybridization of the tractor. ZF, a German automotive supplier, is offering its eTrailer, a semitrailer with its own electric drive. The trailer features the company’s AxTrax2 e-drive axle. The company says a 16% fuel savings and a reduction in carbon emissions is possible based on the integration of its electric axle with a modular battery system. Basically, because it can recuperate energy from braking, the system can effectively convert a heavy-duty diesel truck into a hybrid vehicle.

South African startup Revov is working on a solution that consists of a trailer with a pre-charged battery inside. The trailer can be placed between the tractor and the trailer, a process that the manufacturer says takes approximately five minutes. When the Revov EV is attached to the tractor-trailer combination, the company says it provides enough extra power to cut emissions by 70% to 80%.

While these technologies are in their budding stages, trailer electrification developments bear watching as they could play a role in decarbonizing goods movement.

 

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CDK Global Heavy Truck
By CDK Global Heavy Truck
Staff

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