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The World’s First Solar-Powered Truck is Being Tested in Sweden

Transportation accounts for roughly one-fifth of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, with road travel responsible for three-quarters of these emissions. While passenger vehicles account for the majority of road travel emissions, nearly 30 percent come from trucks carrying freight. 

In a bid to address this challenge, the Swedish company Scania has developed the world’s first solar-powered hybrid truck. 

Here’s how it works: a hybrid truck, which already includes 100 kWh of energy storage, is connected to Scania’s 18-meter (59-foot) trailer, which is covered in 100 square meters of solar panels. Scania’s trailer functions as a ‘power bank’ for the hybrid truck and delivers an additional 200 kWh of energy storage to the rig. 

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Thanks to its self-generated energy, the unique truck has the capacity to lower both the operational expenses and CO2 emissions associated with heavy transportation.

“Scania’s purpose is to drive the shift towards a sustainable transport system. Never before have solar panels been used to generate energy to a truck’s powertrain like we do in this collaboration,” says Stas Krupenia, Head of the Research Office at Scania. 

The innovative prototype is currently being tested on the Nordic nation’s public roads. 

Scania is deliberately testing its fleet in Sweden, a country known for its limited sunshine, to ensure the project’s widespread applicability, explains Eric Falkgrim, technology leader for vehicle design at Scania.

“If you can make it work here with solar power in Sweden, you can make it work anywhere.” 

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While the solar panel-covered trailer is currently compatible with a modern hybrid tractor, the team at Scania is also exploring the possibility of attaching it to an older combustion engine. If they succeed, it could have a substantial impact on the transportation industry by providing a renewable energy solution for older vehicles.

Initial findings from the evaluation of a solar trailer coupled with a combustion tractor indicate a potential reduction in fuel consumption of approximately 40 percent, according to Euronews

This would be especially beneficial for the current fleet of heavy-duty trucks on the road. In the EU, the average age of a truck is 13.9 years old with Greece having the oldest truck fleet in the continent (23 years old on average). While long-haul trucks typically wear out after 15 to 20 years, replacing them is costly for businesses. Scania’s technology could help these trucks stay on the road, which would save money, especially for small and medium enterprises. 

The trailer is part of a research project in conjunction with Uppsala University. The researchers developed innovative, efficient, and lightweight solar panels specifically for the trucks. Additionally, they are investigating how these trucks can interact with the power grid and are creating new models to predict the impact of connecting multiple trucks to the grid simultaneously.

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The researchers are also looking into tandem solar cells, which pair newer, more efficient perovskite cells with standard silicon ones. Compared to the current output from existing panels, this solution has the potential to double the amount of solar power generated in future trucks. This is because conventional silicon solar panels only capture electricity from a limited portion of sunlight’s longer wavelengths. Perovskite, a cost-effective semiconductor material, offers the advantage of adjusting to absorb shorter wavelengths, complementing silicon’s limitations. So in tandem, this powerhouse duo catches more light than either cell working alone. 

“This is an exciting project where academia and industry together try to decrease the climate impact from truck transports. The results from this unique truck will be very interesting,” said Erik Johansson, Project Manager and Professor of physical chemistry at Uppsala University, in a press release

The truck recently won the prestigious annual ‘Green Truck’ award for the most transport-efficient heavy-duty haulage vehicle in Europe. The competition, organized by leading German trade magazines Trucker and VerkehrsRundschau, evaluates fuel consumption, average speed, AdBlue (diesel exhaust) usage, and truck weight to identify the most efficient truck. Scania’s truck excelled in all areas, achieving notable fuel savings of eight percent and a high average speed of 79.70km/h (49.5 mph), thanks to its advanced Super-based powertrain and updated Cruise Control system.​

This is the ninth time the Swedish vehicle manufacturer has won the award. 

In Sweden, where the days are dark and short, solar energy gives the hybrid truck a prolonged driving range of up to 5,000 kilometers (~ 3,110 miles) annually. In countries with more sun hours, like Spain and Italy, the vehicle can double the amount of solar energy and driving range relative to Sweden, Scania says.

In a hard-to-decarbonize sector like transportation, solutions like Scania’s innovative solar-powered trailers are essential to reducing the cost of greenhouse gas reductions and spurring more private sector buy-in in clean, next-gen technologies.

Nathalie Voit is a freelance content creator and a graduate of the University of Florida. She is an alumni of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.  

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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