Tip Sheets

Electric truck infrastructure plan shows promise, leaves lingering questions

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

The Biden administration has unveiled a plan to bolster the nation’s infrastructure in a way that supports electric trucks. The strategy targets “transport hubs” and focuses on charging infrastructure as well as hydrogen refueling stations.

Jesse LeCavalier

Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

Jesse LeCavalier, an expert in infrastructure planning and a professor of architecture, says that while the strategy is promising, there are lingering questions for fleet operators.

LeCavalier says:

“This strategy seems promising as it facilitates industrial transportation planning processes in support of zero-emission electric vehicles. In the words of the strategy, it will ‘prioritize, sequence, and accelerate infrastructure along key freight corridors and hubs in four phases.’ I.e., there is not additional funding here but more a call for greater alignment in accelerating adoption of an EV shipping fleet.

“It remains to be seen what the implications for fleet operators might be, what the processes are for retiring their existing diesel fleet (which often get moved to short haul sites – often near ports and often near vulnerable communities).

“One of the larger issues is where the source of the power is coming from. It is essential that ZEVs are powered by clean energy, otherwise the purpose is defeated. Accountability for this process is important. Likewise, demand on the grid continues to increase, especially with the rapidly increasing adoption of AI, a potentially significant consumer of grid power.”

Paul Mutolo

Director of External Partnerships, Energy Materials Center

Paul Mutolo is a chemist and director of External Partnerships for the Energy Materials Center at Cornell University, as well as co-founder and CEO of Standard Hydrogen Corporation. He says the plan doesn’t address the potential impacts of this infrastructure on the electric grid.

Mutolo says:

"The Biden administration's strategy is important as it targets disproportionate emissions from 'over a century of petroleum-fueled' medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that will have an immediate and far-reaching impact on communities in and around trucking hubs, for example. It suggests a long-looking policy to encourage private investment in the sector, with a focus on critical corridors.

"However, the policy specifics released so far miss the big picture of how electrification of the transportation sector will affect the grid. If built correctly, improvement of one will give a positive bump to the other. For example, energy storage at each heavy-duty charging point can double-duty as infrastructure for more renewable power.

"The strategy is also silent on gap incentives for cost of vehicles and/or power / fuel. In some markets, these won’t be necessary. But for long-haul, the conditions must allow cost of operation to be comparable to petroleum-based travel, if the switch is expected to occur."

"We can't expect the grid to pick up the slack. A HD charging cable will be rated in 10s of MW to be effective.  Today’s grid isn’t built to support that in the densities and locations necessary for success. We must incentivize energy storage at charging locations as a real win-win for both grid and transportation. Versatile energy storage, such as hydrogen, is a great solution here. It is critical to have both hub-and-spoke and also fleets of vehicles that will utilize the charging stations, and to incentive partnerships between infrastructure developers and fleet operators, so each can focus on their part."

Rick Geddes

Professor, Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Rick Geddes, professor of policy analysis and management and founding director of the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy, says the strategy demonstrates efficient use of taxpayer dollars and it stresses the need for different truck technologies for different freight routes.

Geddes says:

“Although there is no new spending, by focusing on relatively short-haul routes in denser areas, the strategy identifies the freight corridors where electrification of trucks would create the greatest social value so taxpayers would get the ‘greatest bang for the buck.’ It makes sense to electrify those corridors first by ensuring that truck charging infrastructure is available and to focus on other corridors later.

“The report is also helpful for stressing that truck electrification is less viable for long-haul routes. For long haul routes, the weight of the required batteries becomes prohibitive. Although it is less developed and still faces technological hurdles, hydrogen powered trucks are more viable for long-haul routes. The report is valuable for pointing out how different freight routes may call for different truck technologies.”

Arthur Wheaton

Director of Labor Studies, ILR School

Art Wheaton is an expert on transportation industries and director of labor studies at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He says the strategy is politically expedient for Biden, and it helps in reaching climate goals.

Wheaton says:

“Politically, this makes good sense for President Biden since it would lessen impact on forcing changes to individual drivers and would help reach climate goals with better bang for the buck.

“Electrification of the heavy truck sector could have the largest impact on reducing transportation emissions. Lots of emissions from heavy trucks disproportionately hurt economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with air quality.

“Trucks increase the ability to plan routes that will be repeated many times in predictable time schedules as opposed to personal vehicles and chaotic driving patterns.”

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