Furrer + Frey (Opbrid) Proposes Tractor Swapping – Pony Express

JUN 8 2016 BY MARK KANE 47

Opbrid Debuts Trůkbaar Ultra High Power Automatic Charging Station for Trucks

Opbrid Debuts Trůkbaar Ultra High Power Automatic Charging Station for Trucks

Furrer + Frey, which has acquired the Opbrid, recently proposed a pretty nifty idea on how to electrify long-haul trucking.

Instead of overhead catenaries, inductive charging while driving, fast charging along the route, or battery swapping, Opbrid is considering swapping whole tractors (it would seem they are definitely Formula E fans – which utilize the same principle).

“Under the proposed tractor swapping model, a tractor-trailer with a low battery charge would pull into a station where a fully charged tractor is waiting. The driver switches tractors, and departs with a full pack. The first tractor then recharges.”

To facilitate the swap, Opbrid would like to make the process automatic (with some driver assistance).

Charging power at the stations would be up to 650 kW, while the battery packs needed for about 200 km (120 miles) of heavy load driving would need to be about 400 kWh.

Green Car Congress notes on the idea:

“Several enabling technologies can streamline the process:

  • Jost KKS automated coupling system. This is a fully automatic driver assistance system that controls all functions of the coupling and decoupling process that have previously been performed manually. This also includes the first automated interface for pneumatic and electric connections.
  • Furrer + Frey Opbrid Trůkbaar. The Opbrid Trůkbaar is designed for ultra high power mode 4 DC charging, up to 650 kW. This amount of power transfer uses the conductive technology transferred from the European electric rail industry by Furrer + Frey. This amount of power transfer enables scenarios such as super short charge stops and 24-hour operation.

Although the advantages are clear (simple and fast, without the need for large infrastructure projects), there are a number of disadvantages that need to be addressed Bedell points out:

  • Need for precise scheduling to avoid idle tractors.
  • Installation on the KKS system on participating tractors and trailers.
  • Delays can propagate through the system—similar to delays in air travel.
  • The business model favors large shippers.


source: Furrer + Frey (Opbrid) via Green Car Congress

Categories: Charging, Trucks


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47 Comments on "Furrer + Frey (Opbrid) Proposes Tractor Swapping – Pony Express"

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This is one practical model but there are others. In every case it will not be as convenient as diesel. If the government outlaws diesel trucks we can adapt but if given a choice we’ll stick to diesel for a long time.

You should also look at the price of diesel. When buying a car and only use it an hour per day, it takes many years to pay back the initial higher price. It seems to me this payback time for trucks and busses is a lot shorter, so more gains can be found here then in cars.

Precisely. The more fuel burned per hour, the better the economics of electricity become. Long distance trucks are far and away the largest fuel burners per hour.

Dealing with Superstorm Sandy – and paying for all the repairs – is not convenient. That is one of the results of diesel.

No, I think battery swapping makes more sense

The final goal has to be batteries (or other enabling systems) big enough to allow driving for 4 hours that can be charged in under an hour. This should allow charging to coincide with when the driver should be having meal/toilet/rest breaks anyway.

Yeah, the proposal of only 120 miles between swaps sounds rather short. That’s only 2 hours of driving at 60 MPH.

I wonder how big a 400 kWh battery pack (as proposed in the article) would be, and if a 900-1000 kWh battery pack would be practical with current cell volumetric energy density.

Why Not Add Trailer Based Battery Extensions – so that besides the Cab (Tractor) having it’s own Battery, When the Trailer is connected – it becomes a Range Extender – and Both can have charging ports on either side, and the trailer – could have multiple simultaneous charging points – since it would likely be a bigger battery?

There is Terry Hershner – who uses multiple J1772’s to fast charge his over-sized battery (28 kWh) on a Zero Motorcycle with Vetter Fairing – for long distance travel on his Bike! If he can figure that out – the Trucking Companies should be able to figure this idea out!

Because semi trailers are standardized. In theory at least, any semi tractor should be able to pull any semi trailer.

If you require that these semi tractors use only specially built semi trailers with extra battery packs, you eliminate the advantage of being able to haul any semi trailer. That might work for those trucking fleets which use only their own trailers, like Wal*Mart and UPS, but not general freight haulers. And even UPS wouldn’t like the changeover cost.

This is one of the big advantages, compatibility with existing trailers and tractors which opens up lots of possibilities.

Not ready for long haul, OTR, applications.

Precisely. They pee in water jugs because they don’t have time to stop. You think they are going to stop every 2 hours to swap trucks and the trailer??? LOL

Maybe in the US this is the case, but in the EU, it is required that the driver stop every 4.5 hours for 45 minutes. This requirement can also be fulfilled by a 15 minute break after 2.25 hours, then 2.25 hours more driving, then 30 minutes break. 2.25 hours is about 200km, which should require about 400kWh of batteries, a reasonable amount for today. On European highways, you see drivers pulled over in every conceivable place to fulfill this rest requirement. These stops are too short for a fast charge, but plenty long to do a tractor swap.

That’s a lot of extra and expensive tractors in a company’s inventory. j

We estimate that it will require about 1 extra tractor for each two tractors in the fleet. This is because the charging tractor can charge in about one hour, while the on-road tractor is driving somewhat more than two hours. The tractors are not wasted, they will still have a typical number of km at the end of their life. Tractors don’t last that long if they are used constantly, maybe 4 or 5 years. In this case each tractor would last 6 or 7 years instead, so not much capital is wasted at all.

“…there are a number of disadvantages that need to be addressed Bedell points out:”

Very strange that this article completely ignores the elephant in the room: The biggest disadvantage would be the need for multiple EV semi tractors to replace just one diesel semi tractor. I think that makes the concept utterly uneconomical.

As “Someone out there” already said, battery swapping makes more sense. That may also be too expensive to work with current battery tech, but battery swapping will become cost-competitive far sooner than using multiple entire semi tractors.

“Delays can propagate through the system—similar to delays in air travel.”

That’s why they would need some “slack in the system” provided by extra battery packs at every staging/recharge station; to avoid delays due to a local shortage of packs. And that’s another reason why swapping out entire semi tractors instead of just the packs would be too expensive to be practical. Trucking companies can’t afford to keep semi tractors just sitting around on the off chance that someone might need to use it sometime.

Battery swapping of 400kW (about 4 tons of batteries!) of batteries is difficult and produces no benefits compared to this. The tractors still are used to their lifetime, they just last one or two years longer. The battery will likely be 60 or 70% of the cost of the tractor, so think of this as battery swapping with a nice battery case. It is so simple, and so effective, as opposed to the infrastructure and engineering you would need to implement battery swapping.

400 KWh WOULD rather be in the 2.5 ton range.

Current battery technology isn’t ready to take on this task of long hauling. Stopping every couple hundred miles to switch tractors is not only impractical, but it’s a logistics nightmare. The focus should be yard tractors first. Ford made the move to electric yard tractors over 6 years ago at Michigan Assembly. They haven’t done much to exploit the PR benefits of such a move, but they are powered by solar, they work, and they are saving the company money.

This is interesting that a simple yard tractor saves money. If this is correct, then a long haul swapping network would be immensely profitable.

Long Haul Trucks, freight trains and airplanes can be replaced by hyperloops running freight/passengers point to point. Electric delivery trucks will complete the job for the freight. Long haul anything, except overseas transporting, will be obsoleted by hyperloops.

As mentioned by others, companies with hard assets are always trying to maximize their utilization of those assets.

For example, lots of companies with MRI machines book them day and night around the clock. When the equipment sits idle, it is losing money. It is depreciating and compounding interest on any loan used to purchase it.

The same goes for trucking companies. Trucks sitting idle are burning through cash. They are depreciating, compounding loan interest, and burning through hours of insurance without generating any income.

I like running miles on electricity, but this is a poor choice. The money would be better spent on electric buses.

Good observation. This scheme only works if it has very high utilization of the capital resource, the tractors – 24 hours per day would be ideal. Of course, if a carrier using tractor swapping can give you a better price than the competition, then utilization won’t be a problem, probably the inverse – too many people wanting to use your system, though that is a rather nice problem to have.

Ok, thats not going to work. There is no such thing as a quick trailer change and you need mutlitple time the tractors compared to a normal ICE now. A tractor costs around 200.000$. Image you need now three tractors instead of one because you want to make a 500 mile route?

Ok, changing the tractor will be quicker than charger the battery, but it will be still to slow, and the idea is far to much cost intense.

How long does it take to switch tractors on a tractor-trailer rig? I didn’t realize it took that long.

Take a look at the Jost KKS video on youtube. You press a button in the cab, and the trailer decouples in seconds. Same for coupling. It is very cool. Likewise, the Opbrid Trukbaar connects fast and automatically. The guys I talk to at Volvo say that they can easily make the entire swap automatic, if your car can park itself, so can a truck. So, you pull up at a truckstop, get out, get a Ho Ho, and when you get back, a freshly charged tractor is ready and waiting.

Personally, I think Wrightspeed has the best solution for long distance trucking (that can’t be put on an electric train) – as long as it is economically viable (as usual, no mention of cost on their website). MW

This is like someone figured battery swapping is too much technology than they can handle!

A better approach, in my opinion, is proposed by Nikola Motor Co…a hybrid electric compressed natural gas drive train, coupled with a national network of refueling stations: http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2016/05/11/nikola-motors-sleek-hybrid-semi-is-tesla-trucks/

These are great replies, thanks for all the feedback. Just one comment, if this scheme turns out to be 20% cheaper overall (more likely in the EU where fuel costs 2x more than the US), do you really think anything will stop big logistics companies from switching to it? I’ve been in the bus electrification area for years, and they are almost cost effective, with the price difference between diesel and electricity. Long haul trucks use a lot more diesel per hour, magnifying this savings 3x or more. Fuel is also a bigger part of the overall cost ton/km. We haven’t figured out everything, but a 20% overall cost savings may be possible, which translates into huge profit potential for companies that embrace this.

Opbrid (Roger?) — Thanks for stopping by. Keep in mind that while insideev’s is an international site, those of us in the US tend to write based on the US market (unless otherwise specified). So a program that would be better suited for the EU market will draw a lot of comments about the problems of doing it in the US market. So please understand the unwritten context of many of the posts being comments about the US market. I also don’t know what the rules are for Europe, but in the US OTR drivers have strict time limits on their driving. From when they show up for work each day, their goal is to complete 11 hours of actual drive time before 14 hours expires. If they don’t get their 11 hours of drive time in before 14 hours is over, they don’t get paid for a full day of work. Within this time, they have strict rules about rest time, and trailer swapping wouldn’t count as rest time. (They cannot be doing anything that involves their vehicle, so time filling up the gas tanks doesn’t count as rest, etc). Spending time swapping would make the lives of truckers… Read more »

And city buses, which are the ones being electrified, generally do a lot of stop-and-go travel, and most travel is at relatively low speed… say 40 MPH or less. All that lends itself well to a battery powered vehicle.

Contrariwise, long-haul trucks try to maximize their time traveling at the maximum possible speed on highways. Truckers even forego “rest stops” by using a catheter and a bottle to pee into.

So, Opbrid, good luck with your business! It looks like you have some real challenges there to overcome, to make a profit. Hopefully you’ll surprise us and make a go of it!

Yeah, one reason I moved to Europe is that the US is still in the stone age for their fossil fuel policies. It will never kick the habit until the economics force them too. This is why I’m focusing so much on the economics of electrification rather than the environmental benefits. Electric cars make you feel good, but don’t save you any money. EBuses are green washing for politicians. I hope to prove that the best electrification economic target is actually long haul trucks, and I think I’ve found a way to do this in an efficient and practical way using tractor swapping.

Hey, Opbrid, thanks very much for taking the time to post here!

My understanding is that for independent truckers in the USA, the cost of diesel is about 1/2 the cost of operation. (Obviously that percentage varies as the price of fuel goes up and down.) Since diesel is priced so much higher in the EU, very roughly twice the price due to taxes, if my understanding is correct, then that certainly does suggest a higher potential for cost savings using battery-powered EV trucks.

So if you can make a profit at this, then more power to you! I’d simply love to see you prove us all wrong.

Up the EV revolution!

I’m sick of EVs not taking over markets. I originally entered the bus market thinking that political pressure would cause a quick rollout of ebuses. Not the case. The bean counters always weigh in and delay things because it “is cheaper to burn fossil fuels”. Now we are seeing the folly of this – even Sarah Palin must be wondering where the snow went – 10 degrees hotter in Alaska this year. If this scheme makes a shipper 20% cheaper than the competition, then it won’t take long before everyone is doing it. This is why I’m targeting heavy trucks – they burn the most fuel, thereby producing the most savings when switching to electricity.

Hm, I doubt that long-haul truckers still exist in the mi-term future. However, if they do, I cannot see them swapping tractors every 4hrs or so. They kind live in these things and make them personal and homey…

But then, I guess tractors will soon be autonomous and then tractor swapping will be much more of an option. Of course, the best truck is still the one NOT on the road. Most transport can be done by train+local trucking to final destination. If it weren’t for that blasted just-in-time thinking, there’d be much less need for long haul trucks.

Joe said:

“…long-haul truckers… I cannot see them swapping tractors every 4hrs or so. They kind live in these things and make them personal and homey…”

You’re talking about independent truckers. Drivers for truck fleets have to be able to switch to a whatever tractor they’re assigned to. Obviously this business plan only has any hope of success if used for a large fleet of trucks. The larger the fleet, the smaller the cost per truck for the necessary staging/recharging areas.

Exactly correct. This favors large fleets. Owner operators will become a thing of the past if the economics of this works out. Sorry, but autonomous trucks will also come eventually, making all professional drivers obsolete, so it might be worth going to night school, or selling that Frightliner and retiring.

Most transport can be done by train+local trucking to final destination. — Joe

As someone who has worked with a shipper. At least in the US. Trains can cost more then sending by truck. Much more sometime. Even when you don’t care how long it takes to get to the other end. Sending a pallet 5 zones was cheaper then putting it on a train. If you are sending 100 pallets than a train might be cheaper especially if you sending it cost to cost.

Volvo and Mercedes (and others) have the best solution of all: small batteries in the truck cab, and when on the highway, use overhead powerlines. Drop the contacts down to pass, or to drive of at the exit and go to the freight terminal.

Perhaps in the EU there are places with naked power lines running overhead on the highways, but certainly not in the USA! Of course, Opbrid doesn’t have to operate in the USA to make a profit.

But do those overhead lines provide enough power to move a tractor-trailer rig at highway speed?

I’m very aware of the Siemens EHighway system. It is an enormous infrastructure job, great for Siemens, but will never happen – too big, too hard. I’ve been searching for years for a way to electrify big trucks without such huge infrastructure, and I think tractor swapping is an excellent alternative. So far nobody has come up with a good reason not to do tractor swapping. Anyone?

Personally I think Battery swapping has more of a chance then this does. At least with battery swaps you only have the pack cost and I would expect that swapping batteries would be faster then swapping trailers or cargo.

Why not small generator diesel hybrid engines where the diesel is only providing charge to the trailer mounted main battery (smaller one on the tractor) and thus able to run at it’s most efficient power output (90%).
Then once we’ve cracked battery p/w ratios so that the generator is no longer needed it is just unbolted and donated to a museum.

When you see big American trucks they have that huge protruding part in the front. If that place was occupied by a huge battery, it could be very easy to swap them by driving to a kind of unloading dock where the battery rolls off to be charged and the truck then moves (on a smaller fixed internal battery) to another unloading dock position where a green light above indicate a full battery pack. The truck aligns with it and the replacement battery rolls in. Battery unloading dock for charging would be spread along roads for use by truckers. This would keep the same tractor and only change the battery. It doesn’t require sophisticated swapping since the battery is pushed on the unloading dock by a piston on the truck and the arrival of the battery automatically connects it to the charger on the unloading dock. It is again the truck that moves to load a filled battery standing on the unloading dock. When he is in front of it, he uses the same piston to pull the battery inside. A push pull system is all it takes with guiding rails and small wheels under the battery plus a concrete… Read more »

Thinking about it this could be a great cooperation between Tesla and Amazon, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos could agree on this.

OK; ‘that’ is a brilliant idea!