Electromobility is one of the hot topics of present times, especially with regard to the reduction of CO2 in transport. And in logistics too. Although only a few electric vehicles are currently used in general cargo logistics and long-distance transport, electric trucks are becoming increasingly attractive, especially in cities struggling with air pollution. For the past three years, the iHub research project, in which the research team of the PTV Group also participated, has examined the use of electric trucks in urban logistics.

How can a mixed fleet of electric and conventionally fueled trucks be operated in a highly sustainable manner? The project team aimed to find this out. Due to their limited range and the time it takes to recharge them, electric vehicles seem to have an apparent disadvantage. Is it possible to plan flexibly with electric trucks and make deliveries just as well as with conventional trucks?

Good planning is essential

ihub Lastwagen
Michael Schygulla (right) from the PTV research team visiting the iHub project partner DB Schenker in Berlin

“It’s all a question of good planning and control,” says Michael Schygulla, Manager Research Logistics at PTV Group. “For iHub, we worked with our partners to develop an IT platform that incorporates all important elements, including route planning and control, order management, and energy management. This enables intelligent control of the mixed fleet.“

The dynamic route planning solution only assigns transport orders to an electric truck if the transport service can be executed as reliably as when using a diesel truck. A wide range of parameters were considered here, including range, loading, and length of the distribution routes.

“The dispatcher has to be in a position to include additional orders that arrive in the course of the day into an existing route and then to consider the remaining range and route length of the e-trucks in question,” explains the PTV researcher.

Navigation system for Electic trucks

The navigation system also plays an important role in the deployment of electric trucks. PTV Navigator, the standard program for heavy trucks, was therefore enhanced to create a project version for e-trucks. The different vehicle types can be set up in the app for mobile devices, including technical data, dimensions, and battery capacities.

“The navigation designed especially for electric trucks makes everyday operation more efficient thanks to precise range calculation and the connection to the back-end. It also reduces the driver’s fears about range,” says Michael Schygulla.

Starting in summer 2018, the project partner DB Schenker in Berlin tested the planning system with a mixed fleet that included three electric trucks with a total load capacity of up to 18 tons. This allowed the project team to collect data about consumption, loading states, and cycles from the vehicles and routes and analyzed.

The deployment of e-trucks is feasible

“In the course of the project, the technical requirements and implementation concepts kept changing. It was an ongoing process,” remembers Michael Schygulla. “DB Schenker was a very good project partner and leader of the consortium, very cooperative and interested in solutions that are fit for the future.”

Martin Mittler, Innovation Manager at DB Schenker AG, adds: “In the iHub project, we were able to test e-truck applications in and around Berlin and to acquire extensive experience in real-life scenarios. We worked intensively and successfully with PTV and gained insights about the long-term operation of electric vehicles in local transport.”

The results of the research project could now be transferred to larger mixed fleets with electric and conventional trucks.

“With iHub, we have shown that the deployment of e-trucks for consolidated cargo is perfectly feasible,” says Michael Schygulla. “Currently, it still costs more to operate electric vehicles than conventional ones. As soon as there are more competitive e-vehicles, urban logistics providers will gradually convert their fleets – of this I’m certain.”

About iHub:

Project management: Schenker Deutschland AG

Project partners: PTV Group, FRAMO GmbH, Fraunhofer IVI and Institut für Postfossile Logistik PFL

Project duration: January 2016 to the end of 2019

The project was funded under the “ICT for Electromobility III” program of the German Federal Ministry of Economy. It is part of the “Digital Agenda 2014 to 2017” and supports the research objectives described in the Electric Mobility Program of the German government.

Thinking ahead to ensure the mobility of the future

PTV Group is involved in various national and international research projects in order to develop concepts, strategies and models for sustainable mobility with interdisciplinary teams.

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