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Breaking through barriers: Getting electric trucks on the road will require a team effort

Climate change has become one of the top concerns for governments and citizens across the globe in recent years. Companies from all industries are forced to pay attention to their carbon footprint as regulators shift to using cleaner policies and consumers start buying greener products. This issue is especially significant in the transportation and logistics industry, as moving goods across the country has a direct impact on our climate.

Transportation in general accounts for roughly 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., making it the single largest contributor to these harmful emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Diesel trucks, specifically, account for about 23% of all transportation emissions. 

Earlier this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed requiring companies to publicly disclose information about their greenhouse gas emissions and other climate-related issues. The rule would also require companies that have announced climate and sustainability initiatives to provide evidence on how they are working to fulfill those promises.

This proposal came in direct response to investor concern about how climate change — and related consumer perception — will impact a company’s long-term success and profitability, according to SEC Chair Gary Gensler. This only underscores the importance of taking action on sustainability as soon as possible.

The push for a greener supply chain has led to the emergence of a variety of technologies aimed at reducing emissions. One of the most promising — and most ambitious — strategies in the industry is the push to implement electric trucks. While hydrogen fuel cells offer a promising alternative to ozone-threatening diesel engines, creating an electric-friendly infrastructure will require dedication from government regulators, equipment manufacturers and industry players alike.

“When it comes to the actual purchasing of the trucks, any kind of zero-emission truck is going to be expensive. We could use help. I don’t think anyone wants trucking companies to have to raise the rates to cover the price of these trucks,” said Andrew Erin, PGT Trucking director of safety and risk.

California currently offers grants up to $120,000 to supplement the cost of zero-emission tractors. While the grants do not cover the entire cost of the equipment, they help make up the difference between purchasing a high-end diesel truck and a zero-emission truck. Erin believes a federal incentive mirroring the state of California’s initiative would be helpful in spurring the adoption of electric trucks, especially in the beginning. 

In keeping with this conviction, PGT supports the Hydrogen for Trucks Act, which was recently introduced by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, and by U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, D-Calif., and Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.

The bipartisan legislation would incentivize the adoption of hydrogen fuel cell trucks through grants, encourage parallel deployment of vehicles and fueling stations, and provide data and benchmarks for a variety of fleet operations. 

“Anytime you have up-and-coming technology, there are a lot of risks for early adopters,” Erin said. “Right now, if Nikola gave me a hydrogen truck, I couldn’t go down the road and fuel it at any gas station. We can use federal help to secure supporting infrastructure.”

In addition to addressing upfront cost and fueling infrastructure concerns, PGT advocates for weight exemptions for zero-emission trucks. Currently, battery-operated trucks are permitted to weigh up to 82,000 pounds. Because hydrogen trucks are significantly heavier than their diesel-fueled counterparts, this restriction means carriers deploying zero-emission vehicles must move less freight. A weight exemption — perhaps allowing zero-emission vehicles to come in around 87,000 pounds — could go a long way toward making sure carriers are not inadvertently punished for making sustainable choices. 

While many companies will have to wait for financial support to break into the hydrogen field, some of the industry’s biggest players have the resources necessary to become early adopters of these technologies right now. These companies could prove instrumental when it comes to building out infrastructure for zero-emission vehicles in the coming years. 

“Many of our customers are large, publicly traded institutions that have made commitments to sustainability initiatives,” Erin said. “We talk to them about collaborating with us on efforts like fueling stations. While waiting for Congress to act, we have to find solutions for the customers already trying to do these things in their core business.” 

Companies hoping to utilize hydrogen trucks sooner rather than later may need to consider installing fueling stations on-site to get started. Aside from behind-the-fence options, carriers may also consider collaborating with companies like PGT or another third party to facilitate nearby fueling stations.

While plenty of work remains to be done around financial incentives, infrastructure and weight restrictions, it is clear that electric trucks are a core part of tomorrow’s more sustainable supply chain.

“The scope of the change we will see in our lifetime will be pretty dramatic. We are going to need federal, state and local support for these things,” Erin said. “PGT has been fortunate to have opportunities to speak with staffers at several congressional offices. We’re actively participating in conversations inside the transportation industry. PGT’s leadership is educating individuals via conferences and podcasts, and sharing our experience as an early adopter. Ultimately, we are lending our credibility to these new technologies and cutting through the fear of change.”

Click here to learn more about how PGT is shaping the future of freight. 

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes PGT Trucking (No. 83).