The Tesla Semi travels 1,700 kilometers in 24 hours and challenges Mercedes, Bill Gates and anyone who doubts the electric truck

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“Batteries will probably never be a solution in applications like trucks, cargo ships, and passenger planes.” These were the words of Bill Gates three years ago. Some statements that Elon Musk wants to banish with his Tesla Semi. The electric truck has once again broken a new ceiling and puts into serious doubt what the technology of the future will be in heavy transport. The hydrogen truck, with Mercedes as one of its supporters, wants to overshadow it.

Heavy transportation . According to the European Union , buses and trucks are responsible for 6% of the total volume of greenhouse gas emissions expelled into the atmosphere on our continent. This amount represents 25% of the total emissions produced by road transport. 99% of the trucks circulating in Europe in 2023 are combustion vehicles.

To reduce these and other polluting substances, the European Union has set various horizons. The most ambitious aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 90%, compared to 2019 figures , in 2040. The first major reduction should come in 2030, with the obligation to expel 30% less CO2 through the exhaust pipe.

Before, the European Union counted on Euro 7 to bring manufacturers back on track. This has relaxed a good part of the demands that had been raised. For example, the new obligations are delayed until 2029 for heavy transport and NOx emissions will be 300 kmg/kWh, compared to the 90 mg/kWh previously proposed by the European Commission.

The Tesla Semi. Without a doubt, the electric truck that has focused all eyes has been the Tesla Semi. The proposal of Elon Musk’s company in the field of heavy transportation still has a lot to prove but it is leaving examples of what it is capable of offering. According to the brand, it can tow a maximum of 37,000 kg and has the autonomy to travel about 800 kilometers.

Now it is the North American Council for Freight Transportation Efficiency (NACFE) that has published the performance of the Tesla Semi in real conditions. According to its tests, the electric truck managed to travel 1,735 kilometers in 24 hours and more than 2,500 kilometers in 48 hours.

The Tesla Semi, studied along with 21 other vehicles of this type, makes trips for Pepsi, who purchased 20 units of the electric truck. They have been working with him since April of this year. The study did not specify the load that the truck was transporting, but it does report that in those 24 hours, it only made three stops.

The Mercedes-Benz GenH2. The publication of the results of the report has coincided in time with another announcement related to heavy transport and its new mechanics. The Mercedes-Benz GenH2, a hydrogen fuel cell truck, has managed to travel 1,047 kilometers without refueling.

To complete the route, Mercedes has opted for a double fuel cell system, with two motors, two batteries, and two 40-liter tanks. The big difference with other systems is that it has used cryogenic liquid hydrogen, instead of gaseous hydrogen, which is easier to recharge but has the disadvantage that its energy density is lower.

We have already seen the use of liquid hydrogen recently. Toyota has tested it in endurance races but, unlike Mercedes, it used it to burn it with a combustion engine, which offers the sensations (and, above all, sound) of gasoline but wastes much of the energy. The Mercedes truck is more efficient with its fuel cell.

Challenges and advantages of the electric truck. The electric truck still has to convince skeptics and, above all, companies that gamble money daily with its possible use. The biggest challenge, as with electric cars, is in the performance of its battery. More so if we take into account that it is a vehicle to carry thousands of kg inside.

Recharge time is the other big obstacle. As Tesla does not provide official data, various experts have done the math and it is said that the electric truck has a battery with a capacity of 1,000 kWh and weighs about six tons. To ensure that the recharges do not last forever, it has been rumored that in the future it may reach a charging power of 1 MW, for which a huge charging station would be needed.

Among the advantages, the performance of the Tesla Semi seems remarkable when it comes to power. If in the electric car, the acceleration capacity is notable, in a truck it is even more striking. Although it is not clear what charge the Tesla Semi is carrying in this video, the images are impressive.

Challenges and advantages of the hydrogen truck. The hydrogen used in a fuel cell system is as clean as an electric car but has the drawback of the high cost of producing it (especially if it is green hydrogen) and transporting it. So much so that countries like Denmark are rethinking their strategy.

An alternative would be the creation of a few charging stations located next to industrial centers. But although the recharging time is shorter, it is necessary to have a sealing system good enough so that, if cryogenic hydrogen is used, it can be maintained at -252.87 degrees Celsius throughout the journey. Hydrogen in a gaseous state is easier to supply and transport but it is also less efficient.

The great advantage over the electric truck is that recharging should be much faster and its autonomy greater. Or, on the contrary, they could offer the same autonomy but avoid the use of batteries as heavy as those of the Tesla Semi.

A complicated future. One way or another, cleaner mobility with heavy transport seems complicated in the medium term. The challenges to be overcome are many and ACEA already warned that to meet the objectives of reducing polluting emissions by 45% in 2030, it would be necessary to sell 100,000 trucks of this type each year.

According to manufacturers’ accounts, if Europe wants to achieve these objectives, it will be necessary to have 50,000 new chargers, of which 35,000 would have to be high-performance. And, for now, they are betting on the creation of 700 hydrogen recharging stations. Europe’s plans include having 3,500 charging stations available with at least two 350 kW plugs in each of them by 2030.

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