Kruger Energy learns from electric trucks

Khalil Telhaoui, senior project manager for transportation electrification at Kruger Energy, believes his company has been lucky to receive two of Canada’s first battery-electric tractors.

The units travel 65 kilometers between Kruger’s factory in Crabtree and its warehouse in Laval as part of a pilot project in Quebec, with plans to add 20 more electric vehicles over the next five years.

“We received the vehicles towards the end of last summer,” he says, referring to a pair of Peterbilt 579EVs parked in front of a charging station in Laval. And the business learns important lessons along the way.

Since last November, Kruger Energy has been operating two battery-electric trucks in commercial conditions.
(Photo: Kruger Energy)

Decarbonized Kruger

Kruger Energy specializes in renewable energy powered by wind, solar, hydropower, batteries and biomass. “Since 2004, we have invested approximately $1.4 billion in renewable energy at 52 manufacturing sites in Canada and the US,” says Jean Roy, senior vice president and COO.

Electric trucks initially aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The owner wanted us to decarbonize the company and reduce our carbon footprint,” Roy says, referring to the business that makes products like toilet paper and paper towels.

“Our paper division produces greenhouse gases [GHG] while we don’t have an energy department. It was about seeing how we could help our sister company reduce greenhouse gases, and that’s where electric trucks entered the discussion in the fall of 2019.”

Third party transport

The trucks are owned by Kruger Energy, but the equipment is operated by third-party transport companies. “I offered to offer our toilet paper sister company the same shipping services as diesel trucks, and at the same price, but without greenhouse gas emissions,” Roy says.

The business doesn’t want to be a freight forwarder or a truck rental company, he adds. But it has the expertise to partner with carriers that want to electrify. “Our know-how is to determine routes, to see how we can connect, [and] chargers and, if infrastructure is available, help transport companies set up the infrastructure.

“With the current electric truck technology, the model has been well applied to the Crabtree factory and toilet paper, a lightweight product. We are willing to accept lower returns because we are pioneers. It’s in Kruger’s DNA to innovate, to be ahead of the parade with new technologies.”

Electric truck orders placed

To date, Kruger has invested in 65 electric trucks from three manufacturers: Peterbilt, Lion and Tesla.

“We have 22 production sites at Peterbilt because Peterbilt is the first manufacturer to deliver the technology we want,” says Jean Létourneau, vice president of business development and finance at Kruger Energy. The first Lions will arrive when the Class 8 model is approved by Transport Canada.

Kruger is brand independent. He just wants quality electric trucks that have a good lifespan and are appreciated by drivers.

“We also want to provide maximum flexibility,” says Létourneau. That’s why around 30 Tesla Semis have been invested, promising to travel longer distances in all-electric mode.

trucks in the field

Before implementing its pilot project, Kruger Energy conducted an internal analysis with the help of five MBA students from HEC Montréal.

“They looked at 10,000 transport routes from Kruger. We identified what were the best options for electric trucks,” says Roy. “We tried to take the chance on our side by opting for lighter products.”

Electric trucks carry 20,000-lb. loads and this cargo comes out in cubes before it reaches the maximum allowable weight. Trailers are also full when they leave the factory but empty when they return from the warehouse.

“The trucks have a 400 kWh battery that provides a range of 220 km in summer. That’s enough to make the Crabtree-Laval round trip. In winter, the battery will have between 25% and 40% charged when the trip is complete,” Telhaoui says.

While a 180 kW charger is at the factory, another 120 kW charger is installed in the tank as a precaution in case extreme cold or traffic jams affect the vehicle’s range. But theoretically the factory charger is enough to close the loop.

Lessons learned

Two Peterbilt 579EVs have helped Kruger learn many lessons since the trucks were officially put into service on November 1.

“We covered about 20,000 km on two vehicles, with real loads and real operating conditions. Of course we faced challenges, but we solved them,” Telhaoui says.

For example, cold weather didn’t have much of an effect on operating range because vehicles are either moving or charging, which keeps batteries relatively warm. While the operation continues 24/7, we do not suffer much from the winter conditions,” he said.

The Crabtree facility has the electrical infrastructure to support larger charging targets as well.

“Ultimately, we may need 10 charging stations representing about 1mW of the demand of about 23mW at the factory. That doesn’t seem like much,” says Létourneau.

Matching trucks and routes

Telhaoui suggests that the easiest way to approach an electrification project is to consider trucks traveling certain routes.

“For industrial estate owners and food distributors who have paths similar to ours, I would say to start with them,” he says. “We leave some space [in terms of range] for colder days, for when there’s a little bit of traffic, and for the unexpected.”

“It was easy to put this first route (Crabtee-Laval) into the equation,” adds Létourneau. However, everything is not always that simple. “There is a road in Ontario that we still can’t electrify. It is very demanding, especially because of the distance. Our second route will be in British Columbia and there will be customer waiting times. We will have to make commercial deals that take these waiting times into account.”

Kruger Energy is also working closely with Peterbilt on this pilot project. Experience along the way has allowed the manufacturer to make valuable technological improvements to the truck.

“From the very beginning, we told Peterbilt we wanted to have raw data,” Roy says, so additional equipment was set up to evaluate performance. Kruger Energy sees why which of the four drivers consumes the least energy on their journey.

“All this will gain in value over time, [and] It will allow us to optimize battery performance and know how to train drivers,” says Roy.