Last week, US Hybrid CEO Macy Neshati announced that its “RNG Hybrid” tech was ready to roll, with the first-of-its-kind ability to not just operate as an EV in the strictly zero-emissions port of Los Angeles, but to seamlessly transition to natural gas for over-the-road use. What’s more, the company’s new Class 8, shown, had another unique tech offering for the big electric truck crowd worth noting: vehicle-to-vehicle charging.
There’s a lot to digest in that first paragraph. The same way you eat a mountain, then, we’re going to eat this news one rock at a time (that’s how that quote goes, right?).
What the US Hybrid Truck is, and What it isn’t
US Hybrid aims to help large truck fleets reduce their overall carbon emissions with a two-pronged attack on the ubiquitous diesel-engined semis. The first step is installing a powerful electric motor in parallel to a smaller 8.9L diesel engine. This allows the truck to be driven as a pure EV in places like zero emission ports and major city centers that have ICE and diesel bans, where diesels are banned, and to “switch” to internal combustion out on the open road.
I spent quite a bit of time talking to Macy about the technology, and was initially baffled by why his hybrid dryage trucks seemed to be such a big deal to everyone at ACT Expo. “Why is this such a big deal,” I asked him. Isn’t it kind of defeating the purpose of the port emissions ban? Like, how is this not cheating?”
Macy— a longtime industry veteran with ties to a number of electrification projects over the last 20+ years— didn’t back down from the question. “This isn’t cheating,” he said, firmly. “Cheating is what a lot of them are doing now, which is using an electric drayage truck to pick up a container at port, then they transfer it over to a diesel truck off-site.” He went on to list the problems, from the increased time costs to the carbon cost of effectively running two fleets and operating/maintaining another depot. He was also, in fairness, quick to point out that not everyone was defeating the port emissions ban this way … but that enough was that it was a problem.
With a US Hybrid system on a truck, an operator could run as an EV in the port, and on the road. When range starts to run out, the 8.9L diesel engine—significantly smaller than the 13 or 15L engines in most OTR semis— can kick on and provide that long-haul range, relying on the electric motor’s torque to overcome the power disadvantage to the bigger engines, delivering 1770 lb-ft of TQ and significantly better fuel economy. Almost twice as good, in fact. Keep in mind, too, the reduced carbon cost of manufacturing an entire separate truck to use “just” for drayage.
“But we can still do better,” Macy adds. “We convert the diesel engine to run on renewable natural gas (RNG), which has much lower emissions than diesel and which has an infrastructure in the ground already. You can drive from coast to coast on natural gas today.”
I know, I know— calling natural gas “renewable” is a bit of a stretch. I asked Neshati why he considered “RNG” (for “Renewable” Natural Gas, as opposed to CNG, or Compressed Natrual Gas) to be renewable. The short version is that RNG refiners are capturing methane and other carbon gasses that are escaping primarily (but not exclusively) from landfills and turning them into useful fuels. Useful fuels that, according to the EPA, are less harmful to the climate burned than the unburned emissions would be.
And, yes, burning
CNG RNG does release almost as much carbon monoxide as a modern, AdBlue-treated diesel engine— but CO is only one harmful byproduct of burning diesel. In a widespread study, it was found that the use of CNG leads to a significant decrease in NOx emissions compared to diesel vehicles. In fact, the US DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information observed decreases of about 50% were observed across the whole tested fleet.
So, RNG is definitely an improvement over diesel. One truck and no transfer stations is better than two trucks and an extra transfer station. “Or two,” offered Macy. “You’ll need one at each port, if it’s a zero emissions. And another electric truck, too.”
I’m Starting to Believe
I expect the usual round of BEV purists to come out and heckle what US Hybrid is trying to do— but, as ever, they’re ignoring reality. Even if your company wrote a multi-million dollar check to Volvo or Nikola, for example, it could be months or even years before they’d get their first electric truck… and longer, still, before they could guarantee that their shiny new BEV would be able to cover all their existing routes and every possible detour along the way. A flex-fuel parallel hybrid like the one from US Hybrid, though? They could convert all their existing trucks to that technology in a matter of weeks.
What’s more, with the regenerative braking system in place on the US Hybrid trucks, they could operate on electric power at each port or loading dock without the need for high-powered direct current chargers to be installed.
While that probably won’t appease the purists, those among us who celebrate every positive change will be clapping for this one. Let’s hope that a few of the fleet managers out there trying to juggle electric drayage trucks and diesel OTR semis decide to give Macy a call. In the meantime, you can check out the company’s official announcement video, below, then let us know what you think of the big class 8 hybrid tech in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
—oh! I almost forgot. You can plug your EV into it. V2G and V2V capable, making this a no-brainer for an electrified tow truck. Stay tuned for more on that!
Introducing CNG Parallel Hybrid Tech by US Hybrid
Disclaimer: PR firm Skyya covered the cost of getting us out to California for the 2022 ACT Expo at the Long Beach Convention Center, and Ideanomics (US Hybrid’s parent company) is one of their clients.
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