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Tina Casey headshot

The Electric Truck Revolution Comes - Quietly - to the Waste Hauling Industry

Republic Services has inked a deal with electric truck manufacturer Nikola for a deal that could include up to 5,000 battery-operated waste hauling trucks.
By Tina Casey
Electric Truck

The electric vehicle certainly has come a long way from the ill-fated EV1 sedan of the 1990’s, but questions still remain regarding the ability of an electric truck to perform heavy duty tasks, like hauling garbage. That concern has been put to rest by the waste management firm Republic Services. The company has just inked a deal with the startup Nikola Corp. for up to 5,000 battery-operated waste hauling and recycling collection trucks.

Shhhh! An electric truck is coming

Republic has been carefully cultivating its reputation within communities and customer relations, partly with the help of a diversity hiring program that has put more women behind the steering wheels of its trucks.

The switch to electric trucks will make a significant contribution to those efforts by cutting down on engine noise. Electric vehicles do not idle when stopped or parked, and they make far less noise than diesel engines while on the move.

The turnover will also make a significant contribution to Republic’s plans for reducing carbon emissions.

The new electric trucks will run entirely off a powerful battery with a capacity of 720 kilowatt-hours. That will provide enough electricity for a range of 150 miles per charge, while providing energy for all of the equipment on the trucks including the front and side loaders.

The many benefits of the electric truck

Noise reduction and eco-friendliness are just two of the benefits of electric trucks. Superior performance is another one.

Nikola states that its Tre electric drive platform will deliver instant torque along with three times more horsepower than diesel or natural gas engines. In particular, the new electric trucks will be capable of traveling uphill with full loads, a feat that can be problematic for compressed natural gas engines.

Republic will not have to pay extra for the improved performance. In fact, the company anticipates saving money on maintenance costs.

The bottom line angle has already attracted other fleet managers to electric trucks. However, up to now the commercial electrification movement has been confined mainly to delivery trucks. The sheer scale and ambition of the deal between Republic and Nikola together vault heavy-duty applications for the electric truck into the mainstream.

The hydrogen vs. electric truck

The agreement with Nikola calls for an initial fleet of 2,500 battery electric trucks to be introduced starting in 2023, with an option to expand to 5,000.

That is a bit of a surprise move for the company, which introduced itself in 2017 with a focus on fuel cell electric vehicles, powered by hydrogen.

However, Nikola’s Tre electric truck platform is designed for both battery and fuel cell technology. With the Republic deal in hand, Nikola can count on battery technology to achieve economies of scale in manufacturing and supply chain. If all goes according to plan, the Republic order will ultimately enable Nikola to reduce costs for its fuel cell electric vehicles.

The fuel cell angle is especially relevant for the long-haul trucking field. An electric truck powered by hydrogen fuel cell can travel over much longer distances than it would with a battery pack, and it can fuel up in minutes. Fuel cell systems also require less space than battery packs, leaving more room for cargo.

Meanwhile, battery technology is a good fit for Republic. The company’s fleet operates primarily during the day over relatively short distances, providing ample time for overnight charging.

Electric trucks and the green hydrogen revolution

Republic’s switch to electric power will help cut its ties to the compressed natural gas field. The company already reduced its use of fossil gas in 2017 by purchasing renewable gas through the company Clean Energy Fuels.

To the extent that Republic can recharge its new electric trucks with renewable energy from the local grid, the company will also reduce its dependence on coal or gas-fired power plants for electricity.

Republic has already made some interesting moves into the renewable energy field. In 2016, the company embarked on a renewable energy project with the firm Mas Energy, aimed at producing electricity from captured landfill gas. The project covers landfills in three cities in Georgia, for a combined capacity of 24.1 megawatts. That’s the equivalent electricity for more than 15,000 households, or a whole lot of electric trucks.

As for hydrogen, the primary source of hydrogen today is fossil gas. However, Nikola is among the fuel cell stakeholders that are setting their sights on green hydrogen, produced by splitting water with an electrical current supplied by wind or solar power.

Just a few years ago, fossil gas was touted as the cleaner alternative to diesel fuel and coal power plants. Now wind, solar and green hydrogen are knocking gas out of the fuel and power markets. Republic’s new fleet of electric trucks will help accelerate the trend. It just goes to show how much corporate leaders can accomplish, when they take the lead on new clean technology.

Image credit: Nikola

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey