An Early Goodbye to Diesel: Will Electric, Hydrogen or Overhead power Win the Coming Energy Battle?

I love the whine of a diesel on the highway.  When I think back to my years as a truck driver, that sound always brings a smile to my face.  But over the coming decades, that sound will be heard less and less.  This post is an early goodbye, but we have a lot to look forward to as well (like not getting diesel on our hands and clothes when fueling).   

A very interesting report just came out (June 2020) on the future of the fossil fuel industry for investors. But it is good reading even for those that are not directly involved in investing.  One quote stands out to me from this report: 

“The fossil fuel system is especially vulnerable to these forces of disruption because it is low growth, does not pay for its externalities, low return and (incredibly) planning for more growth”

Kingsmill Bond et al.,

Kind of reminds me of this comment about the history of Blockbuster video, and their plans only 10 years ago, I think we all know how that turned out.

“In the United States it planned to close between 810 and 960 retail stores, and instead launch as many as 10,000 “Blockbuster Express” video rental kiosks by the middle of 2010.” 


I think that the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels.  Whether we want to or not, diesel will be something that will be out-competed over the coming decades.  The question is now which power source will overtake diesel power? 

What are the options for trucking companies in the new energy regime, what are we going to fuel up our trucks with?  Let’s take a look at the options that companies have going forward over the coming years as fossil fuels are abandoned. 

Electric Power and Batteries

Electric vehicles will have their place in the new energy world.  They are already being used for urban deliveries all over the world and there are many companies that produce electric trucks like this one for urban deliveries: 

But these aren’t the trucks that we are interested in, because we like Big Trucks at Big Truck Guide.  Tesla is planning on making a semi truck, but I don’t think that it will work.  Big Truck Guide is all about truck weights, and the tare weight isn’t yet public information about the semi.  Probably cause the batteries are too heavy and the truck won’t be competitive and realistic to operate in terms of charging times, etc.  Class 8 trucks have to do two things to keep companies profitable: keep running and haul the most amount of stuff that they can.  Class 8 Electric trucks just don’t seem to be able to compete on these two critical points. 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles

But Hydrogen can do what diesel does, pack a lot of energy into a small space and weight.  And you can make hydrogen from all that electricity that is generated by renewables when nobody needs to turn on their lights.  Nikola is leading the charge in this space and has just gone public.  Plus, when you look through the specs of the Nikola trucks, you actually find specs!  I have to admit that I am a fan of these trucks and am rooting for them to be successful. 

Overhead Power 

Electric and Hydrogen power are the two systems that are talked about the most.  But there is another option that is realistic.  Trucks can be powered by an overhead electrical system like trains use, and this powers the drivetrain of the truck and can charge an onboard battery (which can be small because its range only has to cover the short off-highway distance).  If this system was in place on all highways, then the vast majority of freight could move powered by electrical energy.  There are ready test systems by Siemens working in Germany, Sweden and California doing just this!

It will be sad to say goodbye to diesels, but the world will keep on turning and we will move towards technologies that already exist, the question is which ones?  My guess is that smaller vehicles will move to electric, larger trucks will move to hydrogen in North America, and parts of the world with higher population densities (like Europe) will move to a mix of the overhead power system and hydrogen.  Diesel power will persist for longer in places in the world that tend to take over older units from richer countries. 

I guess I will never own that red 379 Pete that I always wanted, but maybe a Nikola truck will be just as good. 

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