Working Paper

Zero-emission tractor-trailers in Canada

This study estimates the Canada-specific operations costs and CO2-equivalent emissions for zero-emission trucks as compared with their diesel and natural gas counterparts. In addition, it discusses two issues that are of specific concern to the Canadian fleet: the impact of freight load and temperature on battery electric heavy-duty freight vehicles.

Zero-emission vehicle technologies show the greatest cost-of-ownership reductions from 2015 to 2030. As compared with diesel vehicles in the 2030 time frame, overhead catenary and battery electric result in roughly 30% to 35% lower costs, and hydrogen fuel cells result in 15% to 25% lower costs to own, operate, and fuel. The projected costs for electric tractor-trailers would bring their upfront costs in line with conventional diesel trailers in the 2025–2030 time frame.

Compared to diesel and gasoline trucks, the battery electric and catenary heavy-duty trucks have by far the lowest lifetime emissions. Electric truck technologies have 84%, 86%, 87%, and 88% lower lifetime CO2e emissions than conventional diesel vehicles in 2015, 2020, 2025, and 2030, respectively. In those four years, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have 32%, 53%, 62%, and 72% lower emissions than diesel vehicles. The natural gas technologies have emission levels that are roughly 15% to 20% lower than diesel over the study period.

In Canada, where tractor-trailers are often heavier than 120,000 lbs., zero-emission trucks must operate at these heavy loads if they are going to eventually replace diesels completely. Fleets that tend to carry heavy loads would have great difficulty in deploying battery electric trucks unless there are significant advances in battery energy density. However, continued improvements in battery technology are expected, and battery pack energy densities in vehicle applications are projected to double over the next 5 to 7 years.

In additional to the weight concerns, reduced battery performance in cold temperatures is an important barrier to large-scale commercialization of zero-emission trucks. Colder temperatures increase auxiliary power consumption for cabin heating and window defrosting. In addition, battery chemistry is less efficient in severe temperatures, which can reduce driving range by up to 35%.

Decarbonizing heavy-duty vehicle activity by transitioning to zero-emission vehicle technologies, including electricity and hydrogen technologies, presents an immense challenge. Yet there are many promising technologies that have been demonstrated and announced that prove the technical viability and suggest how these technologies could eventually be deployed on a large scale. With sustained government and private industry investment, each of these electric-drive technologies has the potential to overcome barriers.