Because of the time they spend on the road coupled with the standard gasoline and Diesel engines, over-the-road and heavy hauling trucks are a significant contributor to CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. Managing to electrify heavy transport is an important element in the climate transition, but is it even possible above the polar circle? How will eTrucks perform when the temperature is below zero? How about 30 degrees below zero?
In February 2021, Volvo Trucks, ABB and Vattenfall, in collaboration with the mining company Kaunis Iron and Volvo truck dealer Wist Last & Buss, conducted a trial to test the limits of what is possible. The intent was to replace the normal diesel-driven trucks with electric trucks to transport ore concentrate—finely ground iron ore—from the iron ore mine to the transshipment station, under all conditions, including when the temperature drops to minus-30.
The test started in February and ran for four weeks. The task was to drive a fully battery-powered Volvo FMX from the home base in Junosuando to the mine in Kaunisvaara and then unload the cargo in Pitkäjärvi where the ore was transferred to the railway for further transport to the Narvik harbor in Norway. This is a 280-kilometre round trip that is normally operated by diesel-powered vehicles.
The electricity provider, Vattenfall, also participated through its Power-as-a-Service program that included installation, operation, and ensuring the functioning of the charging stations. Wist Last & Buss provided the fully electric Volvo trucks with 400 kW power and two gears while ABB provided three high-powered chargers of 175 kW/each, expandable to 350 kW. The load averaged 14 tons on the outbound leg and the GVW was about 32 tons.
Lino Martino, one of the truck drivers who drove the electric vehicle in the polar winter, recalls, “Even if the charging stops were a drawback, we were able to drive the whole distance, including 140 kilometers with 14 tons of ore concentrate in the tipper, from the mine to the transshipment station, and then back again. At most it dropped to -32 degrees. Then it got cold, despite the snowmobile suit I wear.
“The electric truck is in many ways similar to the one I normally drive, same type of cab and so on, just easier to drive, it’s just one button for forward and one for reverse. And this truck is so quiet, you can’t hear the engine, not even when it’s straining. Only the tires can be heard. And the vibrations are also much less than with a Diesel. All in all, it’s a much more pleasant place to work.”
Although the trial was a success in its determination that electric trucks can operate in the bitter cold, there are many challenges that need to still be addressed. The truck’s battery capacity sets the limit on range and, in this case, it was necessary to take a break to charge the truck both at the mine and at the transshipment station to avoid the risk of stopping on the road. Work is already underway on better batteries and more powerful charging. For on-site transports with only short distances, electric power should work perfectly.
If we are to realize a fossil-free society, we need electric transport that equals the ability of current heavy haulers. Extreme environmental testing like the Volvo Arctic trials will determine what needs to be addressed and how, bringing the eTruck to a higher, more accepted level of performance.
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