Fennell Forestry boss Wendy Fennell knows it could be up to two years before she can categorically determine if this ground-breaking experiment has been a success.But as she puts Australia’s first battery-electric logging truck into its first month of official work from the company’s Mount Gambier base, the pioneering SA operator is feeling confident she can silence the sceptics.
She’s done her groundwork and due diligence, calculating battery power, run-time and carbon-emission reduction for the converted Kenworth T609. “Now it’s time to get the truck loaded and, on the road, to see if the practical application measures up to the theoretical,” Fennell said.
After successful preliminary trials in the Green Triangle region, Fennell says the early signs are encouraging that the B-double is up to the demanding task. “But to really determine whether it’s suitable in transport, you one have to have reliability and two, durability, so that’s what needs to be tested over time.
“That’s why it’s going to take a couple of years to test it like-for-like with a diesel engine unit, but also to understand the costings going forward as far as supply chain costs are.” Fennell said the reason she chose Janus Electric to convert an existing prime mover was because she knew the drivetrain and the cab and the rest of the unit was proven in her busy operation.
She also had plenty of “discussions” with energy companies about the impact of drawing from the grid to power the two batteries that now sit where the fuel tanks once were. The expected range for the 540kW, 720-horsepower motor is between 400-500km on a full charge.
To facilitate faster charging turnarounds with minimal disruptions, Fennell has installed an on-site charging station for the batteries which has the ability to program optimal charging times. “Obviously we’ll be doing that in off-peak times, but until they [the energy companies] start seeing the draw day in and day out that will be something that we fine tune.
“The way our operation works is that we are two 12-hour shifts so we run pretty well 23-24 hours a day.
“The indication is that hopefully one set of batteries will last the 12-hour shift because we do a lot of short running, and loading and unloading takes up a lot of time. We could do three or four loads in a shift.
“So, we’ve got 12 hours before we need to change the batteries over and the batteries only take four hours to charge which gives us a fairly big window.“Because we run all hours of the day, that means we can charge in those off-peak periods, or when there’s availability at the grid.”
With a spare pair of charged batteries always available on site that means the converted T609 only needs to be idle during the time it takes for Fennell Forestry staff to switch them out. At present, because the equipment is new, that’s around 10 minutes, but Fennell expects they’ll soon have that down to 4-5 minutes. “That was one of the big advantages of this system; heavy vehicles can’t be sitting around, they’re too capital and labour intensive.”
Fennell credits her experienced workshop manager John ‘JB’ Bignell for first bringing the idea to her. “He’s got 50 years of experience in the automotive industry and he liked the electric motor, and how it would work, and he could see it working in our application.
“I liked it because our transport operation in the Green Triangle is unique in the fact that we deliver to sawmills, and we’re back to base every day. “And the sawmills have huge energy infrastructure in the fact that they’ve got big transformers. So, my first thought was that we’ll be able to tap into their energy supply. “For the trial, I set up that infrastructure in my depot, but that’s something I think the Green Triangle forest industry can really look at going forward.
“If this trial is successful, and we convert more of the fleets to electric vehicles, the sawmills may have the capacity to set up charging stations utilising the power draw that they have to fire their sawmills, but that’s not always fully utilised.”
Even so, Fennell concedes she didn’t rush into commissioning Janus Electric for her first conversion. She did more than her fair share of due diligence around making sure that the on-and-off-road truck wasn’t increasing risk in her operation, including the chance of it causing a fire.
“But what’s been actually established is that these engines run 40-degrees cooler than a diesel engine,” she said. “The batteries are constantly monitored, and they only sit around 32-degrees, and we’ve had some pretty hot days here recently and we haven’t seen any change in that either.” In fact, Fennell is adamant that there is no more fire risk in the electric truck than that of a diesel equivalent.
NOTE: For the New Zealand forestry and log haulage industry, Wendy Fennell from Fennell Forestry and Lex Forsyth from Janus Electric, the Australian company behind the conversion to the electric battery operating system, will be presenting as part of the major Wood Transport & Logistics 2023 event running in Rotorua on 24-25 May. Details on the event, programme and registrations can be found on the event website.