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Furrer + Frey proposes tractor swapping as solution for electrification of long-haul trucking

Furrer + Frey, a provider of rail electrification and rapid charging systems for transport, is proposing tractor swapping as a solution for the electrification of long-haul trucking. Furrer + Frey is a long-time partner of Opbrid, the provider of the overhead pantograph-based ultra-fast charging Opbrid Bůsbaar for buses (earlier post).

At IAA 2014, Opbrid introduced the Trůkbaar for heavy-duty trucks; the Trůkbaar is one element for the Furrer + Frey tractor swapping solution. Furrer + Frey has also acquired Opbrid, and folded it into its operations. (Earlier post.)

In a presentation outlining the concept, Roger Bedell (founder of Opbrid and now onboard with Furrer + Frey), notes that numerous studies suggest that in 2020-2030, heavy-duty vehicles may overtake passenger cars as the largest global contributor to fuel consumption and GHG emissions in the transport sector.

A variety of solutions have been suggested for shifting long-haul trucking to electric drive, including the use of overhead catenaries (earlier post); in-road inductive charging; ultra-fast battery recharging; and battery swapping.

The first two require major investments in infrastructure; the third relies on heavier, lower energy density LTO batteries and ultra-high charging rates; and the fourth is technically difficult, given the size of the battery packs and the need for expensive, dedicated stations, Bedell observes.

Under the proposed tractor swapping model, a tractor-trailer with a low battery charge would pull into a station where a fully charged tractor is waiting. The driver switches tractors, and departs with a full pack. The first tractor then recharges.

Several enabling technologies can streamline the process:

  • Jost KKS automated coupling system. This is a fully automatic driver assistance system that controls all functions of the coupling and decoupling process that have previously been performed manually. This also includes the first automated interface for pneumatic and electric connections.

  • Furrer + Frey Opbrid Trůkbaar. The Opbrid Trůkbaar is designed for ultra high power mode 4 DC charging, up to 650 kW. This amount of power transfer uses the conductive technology transferred from the European electric rail industry by Furrer + Frey. This amount of power transfer enables scenarios such as super short charge stops and 24-hour operation.

Although the advantages are clear (simple and fast, without the need for large infrastructure projects), there are a number of disadvantages that need to be addressed Bedell points out:

  • Need for precise scheduling to avoid idle tractors.

  • Installation on the KKS system on participating tractors and trailers.

  • Delays can propagate through the system—similar to delays in air travel.

  • The business model favors large shippers.

Bedell estimates that the range required per tractor will be about 200 km (124 miles), plus a buffer for wind, hills, etc.

Tractor-trailer electricity consumption is approximately the same as a 12 m bus, or about 1kWh/km. Doubling that (2kWh/km) would result in a pack of about 400 kWh.


Account Deleted

The solution for the electrification of long-haul trucking is to make fully autonomous trucks that drive for one hour and charges for 30 minutes and so forth non-stop 7/24. That means they can do 16 hours per day of driving at an average of 50 mph so 800 miles per day or 292,000 miles per year and no cost for a human driver either. No tractor swapping is needed. It will reduce the cost of long-haul trucking by at least 50%. I expect Tesla will do it shortly after 2020 if no one else can beat them to it.

Brian Petersen

There's no need for it to be autonomous; drivers can park one truck and jump into the next one ... in theory. Shippers will really love the extra delays that this will build into the system ... not! This does not work for owner/operators, either. Some would argue that the right solution for long-haul trucking is trains. The delays for time-critical shipments already make this hard to do. If people in Maine would stop buying oranges that have to come from somewhere else in the world ... good luck with that!

I think we need to do things that we know how to do first. Short-haul trucking is a lot easier to deal with.


Electrified long haul tractors and long range e-buses have:

1) to be redesigned to consume (up to 50%) less energy.
2) use 3X or 4X ultra quick charge (400+ kWh) batteries

With 400 Km to 800 Km between charge, those e-units could recharge during 30 to 45 quick lunch


This is a half-measure; they had the real solution right in front of them all the time:

Furrer + Frey Opbrid Trůkbaar. The Opbrid Trůkbaar is designed for ultra high power mode 4 DC charging, up to 650 kW. This amount of power transfer uses the conductive technology transferred from the European electric rail industry by Furrer + Frey.

Now move the trucks onto rails a la Bladerunner while keeping the overhead conductive power.  You get:

  • Unlimited on-network range
  • Reduced battery-pack requirements as only the local legs need to be driven on stored power
  • Higher speed limits practical
  • Elimination of car/truck collisions

A 100 kWh battery pack would suffice to carry the truck to and from a destination as much as 50 km from the network, or 100 km if the destination offers charging.  This not only gets rid of petroleum consumption, but also most of the noise and other pollution too while increasing safety.


Why is there even a need for load haul trucking in 2020-2030.

Brian Petersen

You're dreaming if you think the need for long-haul trucking will go away any time soon.

I alluded to people in Maine buying oranges. In reality it applies to almost all fresh foods that are not available locally (in either geography or time). I can get locally-grown corn on the cob in July, but not in December. Locally grown citrus fruit or bananas does not exist. Stuff like this is shipped on trucks because the shipment is time sensitive. Getting entire populations to exist only on locally grown food to eliminate long-haul trucking? Good luck with that. The entire northern half of North America has several months of the year with no locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

And these are far from the only examples. Everyone buys stuff over the internet these days. How do you think that's getting from (all too frequently) China to your doorstep in a week? Air freight and trucking. Would you prefer the thing you bought over the internet to take two months to arrive instead?

Industrial machinery ... equipment to make parts for a much-vaunted electric vehicle that shall remain nameless (I know but cannot say - personal involvement, with non-disclosure agreements in place) was built in one place and shipped by truck to the production site half a continent away. Every time you hand off from one type of transport to another there is a risk of damage being done - and it takes time.

Reality, folks. Deal with it.

Account Deleted

With autonomous BEV trucking reducing the cost of freight over land by minimum 50% we will see much more long-haul trucking not less. Both shipping and aviation freight will lose market share to land transportation.

EP solutions that require lots of new infrastructure will be too costly to implement. The only infrastructure needed for the solution I propose is a network of supercharger stations like the one Tesla is building and that we know costs peanuts.

Harvey as always you continue to impress by being totally unrealistic about everything. Non-stop long-distance heavy duty trucks on batteries are not possible because the battery will be too heavy and large for that and because it is uneconomical to have large expensive battery packs. A large truck may need 100kwh to go just 30 miles with cooling of vegetables for instance. This is why you need short-distance travel like 50 miles between charging stations in order to keep the cost and the size of the batteries down. This is also why long-haul BEV trucking will not begin until they become fully autonomous. Fortunately that will happen not long after 2020. I think Tesla will be first with long-haul BEV container trucking because they are the only one with a large global network of supercharger stations that can support that in 2020.


This scheme can also be termed the "Pony Express" solution - the driver changes tractors (ponies) every so often to keep going. Certainly it is not ideal, but with current battery technology, it is a practical interim solution. The real impetus here is not convenience of the driver, or for environmental reasons, but simple economics. Electricity costs 20% of diesel. Diesel is 30 to 40% of trucking costs. Profit margins are very tight in the trucking industry. These facts show a huge profit potential in converting from diesel to electric. Any one who cracks the electrification nut gets a huge payout. Of course, driverless trucks will lower costs even further, and this scheme is perfectly compatible.


Henrik, there is an awful lot of rail that is idle much of the time.  This rail is much like a limited-access highway, and all it needs is "on-ramps" and "off-ramps" to let electrified trucks use it too.

Brian Petersen

Saying that electricity costs "20%" that of diesel is way over-optimistic in my area. I've done the electric car versus gasoline car math, and it's more like 50%, and heavy-truck diesels have much higher efficiency than passenger-car gasoline engines which would reduce this difference. Once the government figures out how to tax heavy commercial vehicles independently of their fuel source (which they will eventually have to, since these vehicles are responsible for a large portion of wear and tear on roadways) this could very well wipe out any hypothetical energy cost advantage that may currently exist.

This is a difficult application, and I think for the moment that our efforts would be better spent elsewhere. Commuter vehicles, short-haul trucking, buses, local transport and service vehicles are all much better candidates for electrification. The inability to achieve perfection should not stop us from doing the things that we know how to.

James McLaughlin

You go, Roger!


Super high speed (up to 300+ kph) freight e-trains in a few North-South and East-West corridors would demand a high initial infrastructure cost but would remove demanding Diesel and e-trucks from busy highways. The Diesel and e-trucks HVAC could be plugged in (the rail car facilities) for the trip while the drivers rest/sleep.

Alternatively, drivers at each end would negate the use of on board drivers and allow the use of short range e-trucks.

The same electrified super high speed twin/double rails could be used by passenger e-trains to further remove long range buses from busy highways and spread initial cost on more users.

Alternatively, freight and passenger units/cars could share the same e-trains.

Those e-trains could (eventually) be fully automated (driverless) to avoid potential accidents.

@Brian Petersen, thank you for rational posts.

Brian Petersen

There's no question that we need better rail infrastructure in this continent. But 300 km/h freight trains - presumably electrically powered??

Any idea how straight and level a rail line needs to be in order to do that without the train flying off curves? How's that going to work in the Sierra Nevada ... or West Virginia?

Any idea how much power/energy it takes to accelerate 5000 tons to that sort of speed? Or climb a grade at that speed?

Any idea how long such a train would take to accelerate to that speed ... or stop from that speed?

No one (with any sense) is asking for this. A better rail infrastructure with ordinary top speeds of 100 - 130 km/h and therefore manageable demands for curves and slopes and rail crossings will do just fine.

FWIW one of the big cost- and time-adders of combining rail with short-haul truck at both ends is the need to transfer cargo. You can do it with sea containers, and you can do it with flatbed rail cars that take a whole trailer on board, wheels and all. There are costs and downsides to both methods and some types of cargo can not be dealt with safely in this manner.

Juggling rail cars at a rail yard so that containers with different destinations end up on the correct trains is no small chore; it takes up land, it takes up time, and it costs something!

Part of the duties of a train crew include inspecting the equipment for safety hazards and checking for safety hazards as the train travels. There's more to it than just controlling the speed of the train and automating this sort of thing requires considerable risk analysis. Don't jump to conclusions.


Brian, that is exactly why independent rail-capable trucks which use the rail system as just another kind of limited-access roadway are possibly transportation's next killer app.


Hi Brian,
Certainly in the USA, the electric vs. diesel cost savings is maybe 50%. In the EU, it is more like 20-25% because of the much higher price of fuel. Even in the US, if fuel cost is 39% per mile (see ), then the savings per mile will "only" be 50% of 39%, or 19%. Add in the chargers and extra tractors, and you may only end up with a 10 or 15% advantage. This still confers a significant financial advantage over the competition in corridors with tight profit margins. In the EU, this advantage is likely more like 20 to 25%, a huge competitive advantage.
Indeed, much of this comes at the expense of taxes, and if electric trucks gain much market share, the governments will have to add taxes or fees to make this up. But in the meantime, there is big money to be made!


Brian, another thought to consider.
From a purely economic standpoint, the difference in fuel cost between electric and diesel is best exploited in transport modes where fuel is a large component of overall costs. From what I've seen, heavy trucks have the highest percentage of operating costs due to fuel, therefore they are the best candidate for finding an economic reason for switching to electricity. I've been involved with urban buses for years, and electrification always becomes a political decision, not an economic one, and it always ends up with the bean counters winning - very frustrating. Electric cars are even worse economic candidates, where fuel costs are a practically insignificant part of actual TCO, and electric car ownership is purely a status symbol or political statement.

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