• Kartik Verma

Semi-truck emissions and innovations

Updated: May 26


Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I hope everyone here had a good meal of some turkey, mashed potatoes and some delicious pumpkin pie.


While the news from the trucking industry has been a mixed bag recently (CO2 emissions, Nikola vs. Aurora IPO, Tesla) we explore the topic today beyond the usual electrification articles that you may have read.


What to expect today:

Also - quizzes are back! Check out this week’s quiz in the recommendations section.

If you have any ideas on how to take this newsletter to the next level then we would love to hear from you here!


Emissions from trucking

Image Source: Kelly L from Pexels

In the US and globally, the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the US EPA, the transportation sector accounted for the largest portion (29%) of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2019 (the next highest being power generation at 25%). Cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads, among other sources, all contribute to transportation end-use sector emissions.


How much do semi-trucks contribute to GHG emissions?


Heavy duty semi trucks contribute 24% of transportation emissions (which account for 29% of all emissions). Therefore, heavy duty semi-trucks contribute about 7% (24% x 29%) to all of GHG emissions. 97.4% of these emissions are CO2 emissions whereas the rest are a mix of NOx, Methane and other gases. While from 1990-2019, emissions from the transportation sector have increased by 23%, heavy duty trucks are the worst offenders increasing 93% over three decades.

By one estimate, an average truck’s carbon footprint in the US is about 223 tons of carbon dioxide which is equivalent to the carbon captured by 273 acres of forest in one year!


If you are interested in knowing more about emissions from various other modes of transport (cars, planes, trains etc.) check out our previous post here.


Source: US EPA


Carbon-capture in semi-trucks

Image Source: Robert Coelius/University of Michigan/courtesy Remora

In April 2021, Ryder Systems (a fleet management company that currently operates a fleet of 235,000 trucks) invested in Remora’s $5.5 million seed round, which closed in April. The financing was led by Union Square Ventures, with participation from venture firms Lowercarbon Capital, Y Combinator, First Round Capital, Neo Ventures and MCJ Collective.


About Remora


Remora is an early stage startup that plans to reduce carbon emissions by using direct air capture from the exhaust of heavy duty semi-trucks. Remora is a start-up that was born at University of Michigan’s engineering department (Go Blue!). The technology is based on the doctoral dissertation of Dr. Christina Reynolds, a company co-founder and its chief science officer.


How does it work?


There are essentially three stages to the process:

  • Carbon capture: Remora’s retrofits their devices onto an existing diesel semi-truck by mounting the device between the tractor and its trailer and attaching to its tailpipes. Remora claims that it can capture 70-80% of the carbon emissions.

  • Offload: While on the road, truck drivers can stop at Remora’s designated gas stations or distribution centers and attach a hose to their device, pumping the captured carbon dioxide into an offload tank in just 5 minutes.

  • Sequestration: Remora then sells the captured carbon dioxide to concrete producers and other end-users. It claims to earn $15,000-$22,500 per truck each year, and share half that revenue with their customers. They are currently charging their pilot customers $15,000 for each device.


Remora claims that adding their device to each truck can save carbon emissions equivalent to planting 6,200 trees a year.


Challenges


So far, carbon capture aboard vehicles has gotten little commercial traction. The biggest challenge is that the captured CO2 must be stored on the vehicle which adds to the weight which is a problem especially in the trucking industry where the name of the game is how much you can transport.


Remora has also yet to demonstrate the performance, efficiency and economics of its process, which involves additional infrastructure, as well as new tasks for drivers. The process could also add time to delivery schedules, creating more complications in supply chains.


The new-founded startup and its investors are confident that they can overcome these challenges and aim to make several hundred of these devices operational by the end of 2022.


Source: Remora, Wall Street Journal


Electrifying the old-school way

Image Source: eHighway

In short, they put a high voltage wire on the road and trucks can just use the electricity from the wire overhead - kind of like a tram in a city but at high speeds.

What is the eHighway initiative?


The Field Test eHighway Schleswig-Holstein (FESH) was initiated in Schleswig-Holstein in the north of Germany to determine whether energy supply through an overhead line system represents a viable solution for the future. The concept of electric roads for cargo transport is tested in moving traffic within the project.


How does the technology work?


Five kilometers of overhead lines are installed in each of both directions along a section of the A1 motorway near Lübeck, Germany. The overhead lines are held up by masts standing next to the road. They are supplied with electrical energy by substations. The energy gained that way gets transported to specially equipped trucks: standard hybrid vehicles that have an additional pantograph that transfers the electricity to the trucks' electric motors and additionally charges the truck battery. When the truck is not connected to the overhead line system, it uses its regular hybrid drive.


Is it economically viable?


Currently the project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Environment and Nature Conservation and is supported by the Research and Development Center at the University of Applied Sciences in Kiel, the Technical University of Dresden as well as the University of Heilbronn. The group believes that this initiative can be commercialized with a pay as you go system where truck operators will only be charged for the electricity they take from the grid. The current pilot, slated to run till the end of 2022 will determine the economic and technical feasibility of the project.


Source: eHighway initiative


Recommendations from the team

  • NASA Quiz - How much do you know about CO2? (I scored 7/10)

  • Youtube - eHighway network in Germany (4 min video)

  • UMich Engineering - Remora capturing truck exhaust (2 min video)




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