A innovative SA operator is taking charge, putting the first battery electric logging truck operating in Australia through its paces in the Green Triangle.
Fennell Forestry boss Wendy Fennell knows it could be up to two years before she can categorically determine if this ground-breaking experiment has been a success.
But as she puts Australia’s first battery-electric logging truck into its first month of official work from the company’s Mount Gambier base, the pioneering SA operator is feeling confident she can silence the sceptics.
She’s done her groundwork and due diligence, calculating battery power, run-time and carbon-emission reduction for the converted Kenworth T609.
“Now it’s time to get the truck loaded and on the road to see if the practical application measures up to the theoretical,” Fennell said.
“It’s an educated gamble, but one we feel compelled to take for the benefit of the heavy transport industry and future generations.”Fennell Forestry managing director Wendy Fennell is looking forward to pioneering the Australian-first trial.
After successful preliminary trials in the Green Triangle region, Fennell says the early signs are encouraging that the B-double is up to the demanding task.
“But to really determine whether it’s suitable in transport, you one have to have reliability and two, durability, so that’s what needs to be tested over time.
“That’s why it’s going to take a couple of years to test it like-for-like with a diesel engine unit, but also to understand the costings going forward as far as supply chain costs are.”
Fennell said the reason she chose Janus Electric to convert an existing prime mover was because she knew the drivetrain and the cab and the rest of the unit was proven in her busy operation.
She also had plenty of “discussions” with energy companies about the impact of drawing from the grid to power the two batteries that now sit where the fuel tanks once were.
The expected range for the 540kW, 720-horsepower motor is between 400-500km on a full charge.
To facilitate faster charging turnarounds with minimal disruptions, Fennell has installed an on-site charging station for the batteries which has the ability to program optimal charging times.Wendy Fennell and Janus Electric general manager Lex Forsyth in front of the purpose-built charging station on site.
“Obviously we’ll be doing that in off-peak times, but until they [the energy companies] start seeing the draw day in and day out that will be something that we fine tune.
“The way our operation works is that we are two 12-hour shifts so we run pretty well 23-24 hours a day.
“The indication is that hopefully one set of batteries will last the 12-hour shift because we do a lot of short running, and loading and unloading takes up a lot of time. We could do three or four loads in a shift.
“So, we’ve got 12 hours before we need to change the batteries over and the batteries only take four hours to charge which gives us a fairly big window.
“Because we run all hours of the day, that means we can charge in those off-peak periods, or when there’s availability at the grid.”
With a spare pair of charged batteries always available on site that means the converted T609 only needs to be idle during the time it takes for Fennell Forestry staff to switch them out.
At present, because the equipment is new, that’s around 10 minutes, but Fennell expects they’ll soon have that down to 4-5 minutes.
“That was one of the big advantages of this system; heavy vehicles can’t be sitting around, they’re too capital and labour intensive.”
Fennell credits her experienced workshop manager John ‘JB’ Bignell for first bringing the idea to her.
“He’s got 50 years of experience in the automotive industry and he liked the electric motor, and how it would work, and he could see it working in our application.
“I liked it because our transport operation in the Green Triangle is unique in the fact that we deliver to sawmills, and we’re back to base every day.
“And the sawmills have huge energy infrastructure in the fact that they’ve got big transformers. So, my first thought was that we’ll be able to tap into their energy supply.
“For the trial, I set up that infrastructure in my depot, but that’s something I think the Green Triangle forest industry can really look at going forward.
“If this trial is successful, and we convert more of the fleets to electric vehicles, the sawmills may have the capacity to set up charging stations utilising the power draw that they have to fire their sawmills, but that’s not always fully utilised.”
Even so, Fennell concedes she didn’t rush into commissioning Janus Electric for her first conversion.
She did more than her fair share of due diligence around making sure that the on-and-off-road truck wasn’t increasing risk in her operation, including the chance of it causing a fire.Wendy Fennell is excited that it’s finally time to get the truck loaded and on the road for more rigorous testing.
“But what’s been actually established is that these engines run 40-degrees cooler than a diesel engine,” she said.
“The batteries are constantly monitored, and they only sit around 32-degrees, and we’ve had some pretty hot days here recently and we haven’t seen any change in that either.”
In fact, Fennell is adamant that there is no more fire risk in the electric truck than that of a diesel equivalent.
“The other thing is with the way the batteries are constructed, this isn’t like the [electric] car set-ups.
“If there is any risk the battery monitoring system will shut the battery down.”
There is also an emergency stop button on each side of the cab, and one inside the cab, that can be pushed to completely isolate the system.
“If the driver, or anyone feels the truck needs to be fully isolated, there are those emergency stops straight there which you don’t have on diesel vehicles.”
Fennell has also engaged with all the emergency services from day one: SAPOL, SES, and the SA Country Fire Service to inform them of the technology and give them more of an understanding.
“So, it has been well thought through, and yes, I don’t believe there is any more increased risk in running a normal diesel engine heavy vehicle.”
What also isn’t in doubt for Fennell – and Janus Electric general manager Lex Forsythe – is the way the electric truck performs on some of the toughest terrain you can drive a heavy vehicle in Australia.
“I’ve driven the truck with a load on it and I’m blown away with the performance of it,” Forsyth said.
“It’s phenomenal, the torque and the gear-shift and how the vehicle can hold on in the hills and particularly when you’re running through the forest and you want to just have the regenerative braking as you’re going up and down jump-ups.
“Even taking off in the sand loaded, just having that torque low down just gives the power for the truck to pull away.
“It’s just a remarkable thing to drive.”Fennell Forestry truckie Brett Horton puts the converted Kenworth through its paces.
Fennell drove the truck with its initial loads and was “very happy” with the way it performed, with the constant torque and regenerative braking being two of the standout features.
“We can’t use exhaust brakes very often in our application because we work in built-up areas, or we work at night around the local community.
“With regenerative braking we can get all those benefits without the noise.”
If there is an obvious early wrinkle for Fennell to overcome it’s the glaring disparity that currently exists between the new technology and the Australian Design Rules.If there is any risk, the battery monitoring system will shut the battery down.
A prime example of that gap, said Fennell, can be seen in the ADR80/1 legislation which notes you can have 6.5 tonnes on the steer if you have a Euro emission engine but there is no allowance for an electric drivetrain.
Until the red tape catches up, that means the load on the A-trailer of Fennell’s Kenworth B-double is around 5 per cent lighter due to the outdated restrictions.
“The ADRs don’t talk about net zero, which is logically ridiculous,” said Fennell.
“The NHVR and the Department of Transport have been great in stepping through this and they’ve given me a permit, and we have got a permit in there for increased mass to ensure our payload is comparable to a diesel.”
At present the permit allows Fennell to have the truck on the road with 6.5 tonnes on the steer, but is awaiting approval to increase that to 7.1 tonne and the drive to 18.5 tonne to ensure she gets payload compatibility with diesel.
“That just highlights another consideration that has to come into play if they want the heavy vehicle industry to change over.”
Her message to governments is clear: if you want operators to play their part in helping Australia meet the emissions targets, then provide a clearer pathway.
“I had to spend hundreds of thousands on the charging infrastructure because there’s no public infrastructure available.
“These critical elements haven’t been nutted out and hence why trials need to be conducted before the supply chain is asked to buy whole fleets of electric or hydrogen, or whatever alternative fuel to meet customer or government targets.”
Meanwhile, Fennell said she’s excited about having the opportunity to provide operational data that can help other operators take a similar leap.
If it works, then she’ll also covert her remaining five diesel-powered B-doubles working log haulage from forest to mill, and potentially the A-double configuration as battery technology improves. She’ll also look to do the same with her AB-triples and A-doubles doing linehaul work. The high-productivity AB-triples already produce 38 per cent less emissions than a semi-trailer doing the same work.
“I believe in the fact we have to start trialling these things before we start mandating,” said Fennell.
“The heavy vehicle, industry and supply chain is critical to the Australian economy. We’ve proven that over the last few years, and so it’s crucial we get this right.
“You know, this may not be the answer, but we’ve seen time-and-time again things imposed on heavy vehicle industry without industry being able to have buy-in and provide real operational information back about how it could possibly work.”
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