ACT Expo: Shell-Penske truck EV charging deal, battery price surge cools ‘a little bit’

LOS ANGELES — A subsidiary of oil and gas giant Shell will soon support charging for Penske Truck Leasing‘s light-duty electric vehicles.

Shell Recharge Solutions will provide Level 2 charging stations to support Penske’s electric truck fleet in five states by the end of the year, the companies said last week at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Chargers will be added in other markets starting in 2023, the companies said.

“It’s increasingly important that we help fleets make the transition to electric vehicles,” said Andreas Lips, CEO of Shell Recharge Solutions. “We want to enable, with our technology and knowledge, that transition in an efficient way without compromising their operational capabilities.”

Shell said it would “deliver design, installation and charging network support” through a software platform it developed as well as maintenance support.

The company said 33 Penske Truck Leasing locations will receive the charging support, including 23 in California. Other locations will be in Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington state.

“Collaborating with Shell will help us expand and diversify our electric vehicle charging network and to support the light-duty electric vans we recently introduced,” Penske Truck Leasing President Art Vallely said in a statement.

Shell has invested in low-carbon fuel offerings in recent years amid pressure for the company to reduce emissions. It was ordered by a Dutch court in 2021 to reduce emissions 45 percent by 2030.

Shell has announced partnerships on charging infrastructure with automakers including General Motors and BYD, as well as with Uber in Canada.

Here are other takeaways from last week’s expo.

Renewable diesel on rise

As sales of electric heavy-duty trucks begin to rise, production capacity for renewable diesel is increasing in parallel.

According to a report by clean transportation consultancy Gladstein, Neandross & Associates, renewable diesel production capacity rose from 600 million gallons in 2020 to 800 million gallons by mid-2021. Capacity is expected to grow to 5 billion gallons per year by 2025, enough to satisfy about 10 percent of national diesel demand.

Renewable diesel, made from resources such as vegetable oils and greases, has thus far been used mostly by truck fleets in California, which provides financial credits that make it “more competitively priced against diesel,” according to the report.

Some heavy-duty truckmakers, including Volvo Trucks, see a need for internal combustion engines even as battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become more commonplace. Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, told reporters that Volvo sees internal combustion vehicles being powered by renewable fuels.

School buses to EV chassis

Longtime school bus manufacturer Blue Bird Corp. revealed a new electric platform for Class 5 and Class 6 vehicles such as last-mile delivery vans and motor homes.

The chassis allows for range of up to 175 miles; wheelbase options of 178 inches, 190 inches and 208 inches; and a gross vehicle weight rating of up to 26,000 pounds, according to the company. It plans to begin production in 2023 at a plant in Georgia.

The move comes as the bus maker expands its electric offerings. Blue Bird says it has sold more than 500 electric school buses since 2018.

“Blue Bird is going to effectively double its total addressable market,” CEO Matthew Stevenson said.

High battery prices

Battery cells are likely to remain expensive thanks to high commodities costs until new battery chemistries are introduced to the market, a panel of executives said.

Paul Beach, president of battery systems supplier Octillion Power Systems, said battery cells are in a “commodity price market” because the energy density of cells has remained roughly the same for the last few years. In the past, battery cell prices would come down as density increased, but innovation has slowed for current battery chemistries, he said.

“All of my contracts are based on commodity prices of lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel,” he said. “As those prices change, my cell costs change.”

AK Srouji, chief technology officer of battery pack maker Romeo Power, said companies have two choices to bring battery costs down: Either wait until commodities prices fall and cell prices follow, or try to innovate in areas outside the battery cell itself, such as the battery pack.

The good news? “We’re seeing prices come back down a little bit,” he said.

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