28 March 2023

Electric trucks are the future, don’t you agree? And yet there are so few of them on our roads and in our cities, while goods transports keep increasing. LiU’s researchers are trying to find out why. 

Trafficjam in the city.
Thor Balkhed

Have you ever wondered why so many diesel-driven trucks cram our roads, when electric cars are becoming increasingly popular? If it is possible to squeeze a battery into a car, there should be no problem fitting it into a truck, right? The answer is that technology is no longer the problem. The challenge lies in society itself.

“I sometimes feel like the odd one out when trying to explain the financial, business and organisational perspectives to people more interested in the technical solutions,” says Viktor Werner, a doctoral student in the Department of Management and Engineering (IEI) who conducts research into the electrification of goods transports.

“If we’re aiming to substitute diesel with electricity, how should we act? If the cost for the haulage companies is transferred from a variable cost for diesel to an investment in a battery with charging equipment, the calculation is completely different,” says Professor Thomas Magnusson at IEI, who leads the project on gathering knowledge that would speed up the transition to electrified goods transports.

“Moreover, this calculation is based on electricity being cheaper than diesel, but the current electricity prices have changed and complicated matters, not least because the price of electricity is different in different parts of the country. Add to this the availability of public charging stations, which, together with battery size determines transport routes and transport planning”, says Thomas Magnusson.

With many parameters affecting the electrification of goods transports, it is maybe not that strange that there are only a few hundred heavy electric trucks but around 83,000 heavy diesel trucks in Sweden. Although the vehicle industry is important to Sweden (one in four trucks on European roads were made by Swedish companies) and technology keeps improving, what is required for electrification of goods transports differs completely from the developments made with electric cars.

“The main focus has been on getting the trucks on the road, but our research looks more at how the various actors in the system around the vehicles act. What could speed up the process? Our research has a cross-disciplinary approach to society, and we have found that things are on the move everywhere, but we don’t know in which direction,” says Viktor Werner.

“One example is that the actors must be able to collaborate when it comes to the power grid needed to supply electricity to the vehicles via charging stations. It’s simple maths: no charging stations, no increase in electric trucks. No increase in electric trucks, no market for charging stations,” says Henrik Gillström, an assistant professor who conducts research into sustainable logistics systems.

Another factor to consider in the business and societal perspective is how we as end customers and recipients of groceries, clothes and many other things would be affected by electrification of goods transports. Would we accept possible longer delivery times or higher prices to enable sustainable transports?  Photo credit Thor Balkhed

Brief facts: Transport research in collaboration

Transport is one of LiU’s strategically selected areas of excellence that are of great relevance to our society. Transport research has three main orientations: transport infrastructure, vehicular systems and logistics systems.
The project with a systems perspective on electrified goods transports aiming to increase knowledge on how to speed up transition involves LiU, Chalmers University of Technology and Halmstad University College, and will run until the end of 2024.

Battery swapping could be the solution

A joint VTI and Linköping University project will study whether a battery swapping system for heavy electric vehicles would be feasible in Sweden. 

A battery swapping system has many advantages compared to the charging cable system used for electric vehicles, as it is based on available technology, could be simpler to roll out and enables separate life cycles for batteries and vehicle. Also, swapping to a fully charged battery takes only minutes compared to using a cable to charge a fixed battery. The technology is already used on a large scale in China, but in Sweden battery swapping is still practically unheard of.

The main challenge is that battery swapping would require a completely new business system, where established and new actors work together in new ways to create joint value. To put it simply, the technology exists, but not the business model.

The project ‛Feasibilty study for upscaling battery swapping systems for heavy vehicles’ will look into this, i.e., technology aside, would battery swapping systems be feasible in Sweden from a business point of view, and what would it take to make it a profitable business? One tangible example is ownership of batteries and battery swapping stations, and how this would look if the battery and the vehicle are two separate things that do not need to have the same owner.

In parallel with this project, there is also an application for building a battery swapping demonstrator with three battery stations, one in Norrköping, one in Linköping and one in Stockholm. This application was submitted jointly with the Logistikia network, which consists of companies in the logistics business. These companies will also be involved in VTI’s and LiU’s research project. The research project will run for one year, and has received SEK five million in funding from the Swedish Energy Agency.


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