While there’s been heated debate around the causes of the trend, it’s hard to deny that climate change is real. The effects are already being felt in numerous ways and in dozens of locations around the world, and changes are happening at a faster rate than the world’s experts previously predicted.
While images of industrial skylines filled with smokestacks pumping carbon and pollution into the air are a stark visual reminder of the impact our modern way of life has on the world, there are numerous others that are more subtle. A major one is the meat industry — from cutting down trees to make more grazing areas, to the gassy byproducts of the animals themselves on air quality.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. More corporations and individuals are seeing the writing on the wall and beginning to think greener. Thanks to reduced costs and increased efficiency, more and more people are taking advantage of solar power. Recycling and composting rates continue to rise, reducing our impacts on landfills. And hybrid and fully electric cars are more popular than ever.
It’s not just personal vehicles that are seeing the value of going electric. While relatively recent, 18-wheelers are beginning to make the switch. Considering how many miles truckers log in a year, it’s no surprise that electric semi-trucks are a compelling topic for discussion within the shipping industry.
Tesla isn’t the only company that’s looking to invest heavily in electric shipping trucks. Nikola and Daimler (the parent company of Mercedes Benz and other popular makes) aren’t too far behind, and others are sure to follow. Trucks are still the main show in town when it comes to moving cargo, so being one of the first to market with a reliable, powerful, and relatively affordable electric semi would be a huge opportunity. With environmentally sound practices becoming more important than ever to customers, imagine being able to offer your fleet as the first 100% electric-powered trucks in the country. One doesn’t need a crystal ball to predict that it would be good for business.
According to the American Trucking Associations, semis are responsible for transporting 71.4% of this country’s freight by weight. There are approximately 36 million commercial semi-trucks on the road in the U.S., and they collectively drive about 140 billion miles in an average year. Trucks make up about 5% of all vehicles on our roadways, but represent about 10% of all miles driven.
Semis aren’t known for their great gas mileage, which makes sense given that they can weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded. It’s not surprising that recent estimates put the amount of CO2 emissions from semi-trucks alone at 530 million metric tons. That’s a staggering 12.5% of total emissions for the country in 2013.
Suffice it to say, the impact shipping is making on climate is a big one, and decidedly not good.
Imagine that we had a magic switch we could flip that would get rid of all diesel semis and replace them with shiny new electric models. First and foremost, it would instantly eliminate the above-mentioned 530 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. Considering that we spew 30 billion metric tons annually, that might seem like a drop in the bucket, but every bit counts. And the removal of CO2 emissions from semi-trucks globally would make an even larger impact.
If a majority of the electricity used to charge the semis came from renewable sources such as solar and wind (both of which are growing in popularity), the impact would be even more substantial. It’s worth noting, however, that the mining process for lithium that goes into electric car batteries can take a toll on the environment, although the net impact is generally seen to be considerably less than that of internal combustion vehicles.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that magic switch, and it might still be a few before a majority of the semis we pass along on the freeway are electric. But progress is being made … slowly. Daimler recently rolled out its first electric semi in the U.S. Tesla’s version is also in the works, and forward-thinking fleet and freight operations are making moves to be on the front line of electric truck usage. The future looks bright, and we should all hope to see more electric semis on the road, bringing us the goods we rely on every day — for the sake of our planet.
Christoph Seitz is co-owner of CFR Rinkens.
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