T. Boone Pickens Is Wrong: Electric Vehicles Can Haul Cargo

By · August 15, 2013

Pickens shares his views on electric cars, in a video posted to YouTube last week.

T. Boone Pickens supports electric vehicles—as long you don't claim that electric propulsion can work for big-rig trucks, locomotives or cargo ships. The business magnate and corporate raider, who made his fortune in the oil and gas industries, stated that "the battery will not move an 18-wheeler" and that internal combustion engines using natural gas or diesel are the only way to haul cargo. Is he right?

While there are a number of companies, like Smith Electric Vehicles or EVI USA, building medium duty all electric trucks, Class 8 18-wheel trucks are much bigger. Class 8 trucks have 80,000 pounds of hauling capacity versus the 20,000-pound capacity of smaller trucks. Yet, there are several companies experimenting with electric Class 8 trucks.

For the most part, these trucks are for around-town use rather than long hauls. The clearest use-case for an all-electric Class 8 truck is hauling containers between a shipping facility, like the Port of Los Angeles, and rail terminals. Thousands of diesel powered Class 8 trucks operate daily in that corridor, and are a major contributor to local air pollution.

Image 05

Balqon's Nautilus XE30

In the Electric Drayage Demonstration—a project begun in 2012, and extending to 2015—Class 8 trucks from four companies are in daily use in test fleets operating between the Port of LA and nearby rail terminals. Three of the models are all-electric trucks, built by Balqon, US Hybrid and TransPower. These have battery pack ranging up to a huge 380 kilowatt-hours; high powered charging units up to 160 kilowatts; recharge time as low as 1 hour; and a driving range up to 150 miles.

Another idea for electric trucks comes from Swedish truck maker Scania, and German electronics giant Siemens. Borrowing the overhead wire system normally used for electric trains, the companies mounted a system on an electric truck, so you don't have to carry a large battery pack. The system is undergoing testing in Germany, and could see deployment in a few years.

Electric trains in daily service around the world prove that electric vehicles are capable of handling large loads—even if they don't carry their own electricity in batteries. Electric high-speed trains travel at speeds of 200 miles an hour, or faster. They can go anywhere that wires can be strung.

The Nordled / Siemens electric ferry

Then, there is the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, a large solar powered electric catamaran. In May 2012, it became the first solar electric vehicle to circumnavigate the globe. The solar panels on board are big enough to generate several hundred kilowatt-hours of electricity per day.

Siemens Norway is also working to put an all-electric ferry into service in Norway in 2015. The full size car ferry, 80 meters long, is powered by two 450 kilowatt electric motors, and carries a 1,000 kilowatt-hour battery pack. (Not a typo.) That's enough for a few trips across the fjord, each trip taking 20 minutes for a six-kilometer crossing. Carrying capacity is 360 passengers and 120 vehicles. To avoid swamping the local power grid when the ship docks to recharge, a 260 kilowatt-hour energy storage unit located on shore is used to recharge the ferry boat.

Long-Term Trends

A conventional ferry traveling the same route consumes about 1 million liters of diesel fuel, and emits 2,680 tons of carbon dioxide and 37 tons of nitrogen oxides each year. Because local electricity is produced entirely by hydropower, it's carbon-free—answering Pickens's challenge that the electricity for electric cars "has to come from somewhere." Siemens claims there are 50 routes in Norway where such electrically powered ferries could operate profitably, especially considering falling battery pack costs.

While current electric vehicles can't handle every use case for heavy shipping, the possibilities are expanding every day. Battery pack prices are falling, and their energy density is expected to significantly increase in the coming years. That will be the key to making all-electric shipping economically and technically feasible, and widely deployed—beginning the long-term process of displacing natural gas and diesel with cleaner transportation fuels.


· · 4 years ago

While I don't see fuel cell cars besting battery electric cars, I keep wondering if there might be a perfect use case for fuel cells in heavy transport.

· · 4 years ago

Maybe he doesn't know that electric motors have been moving trains for 50 years.

· · 4 years ago

Or, He might have been trying to promote building NatGas engines for trucks to sell some of his NatGas. Me thinks that's the case.

· · 4 years ago

Correction: electric vehicles are well below $40,000 already. The Chevy volt currently lists around $35,000 thanks to a recent $5000 price drop, while other all electric vehicles are in the low $30,000s such as the Nissan Leaf. Minus the $7500 federal tax break, and these vehicles are becoming affordable.

Also, the "outlet" is not the only source of electricity, some of us have installed solar arrays to power our electric vehicles.

· · 4 years ago

"For the most part, these trucks are for around-town use rather than long hauls."

Those long hauls are *exactly* what Pickens was talking about. And at this stage, we shouldn't even consider BEVs to do that job. Electric rail, sure.

· · 4 years ago

He is basically right. The title misquotes him. He said "the battery will not move an 18-wheeler". Now we know that it can be done technically . . . . but economically it is nonsensical. You are just nit picking with this.

· · 4 years ago

Well, hang on - I think article and comments are jumping on ol' T. Boone a bit too hard here (gawd, I hated typing that, but fair's fair).

-- TBP does NOT say that electric motors cannot handle heavy loads - he's not an idiot (who doesn't know about diesel electric locomotives or cruise ships?). He's saying batteries don't have enough energy density for long-hauling big loads.

-- TBP's obviously referring to long-haul trucks and transoceanic container ships, not portside shuttles or cross-channel ferries, and he's right; the batteries needed to haul big freight long distances would be impractically massive with any tech currently on hand. The energy density of batteries does not seem likely to approach that of compressed natural gas, much less LNG (which could be justified for big rigs)any time soon. I think @Skotty raises an interesting point about fuel cells, though. Like Skotty, I'm a fuel cell skeptic when it comes to passenger cars, but I can't remember the last time I thought about electrifying big rigs, and maybe FC could handle that effectively.

-- TBP's saying $40k is the projected price for next gen 200 mi. range Teslas, not today's Volts or LEAFs, which he never mentions.

I think maybe people are unaware that TBP's a believer in personal electric vehicles and wind farms, having extolled the virtues of both for the long run. He's been locking up natgas as a profitable interim business, with an emphasis on the fuel's long-term advantages in commercial/industrial transportation applications.

He's no tree-hugger, but he is an energy uber-nationalist, which comes across in the interview if you pay attention.

· · 4 years ago

There’s nothing in it for Pickens if people use Coal. So he’s dead set against Coal. Same as Al Gore – besides the Carbon Credits that have made him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, there is also nothing in it for Occidental, which he also has a large interest if people use coal.

I greatly distrust Pickens because he is quietly buying up water rights all over the place, and I’m sure he will sell it back to you at a very very elevated price.

Oh well, I guess I can flush my toilets with Bottled Water at $10 / gallon if worse comes to worst.


Whenever I make one of my very rare serious responses to your posts you never respond? I'm pretty thick skinned man you won't offend me.

· · 4 years ago

@Bill Howland (slightly off-topic, but indulge me): I'm reading you with interest, and I certainly don't mean to suggest I'm taking offense. I think what you're writing is reasonable and thought-provoking, and I often agree or at least see where you're coming from. I respond if I have a difference on what I think might be a point of fact or want to expand on a counterpoint, but I more often cite someone else who I feel has colored a bit too far outside the lines (as I see them at least, for whatever that's worth), which generally wouldn't be you. But if your response just happens to be based on a different perspective or priority, and I don't have anything to add to what I've already said or questions about what you've offered, I'm usually satisfied to leave the comments as they are to speak for themselves and save the reader's scrolling effort for something genuinely new. The signal to noise ratio here is unusually high for an open forum like this (which is what keeps me coming back), and I know I can run on, so I'm just trying to hold down my own noise level (especially after running a little amok on the etiquette of plug-sharing thread) ;-)

· · 4 years ago

@Bill Howland (back on topic): And yeah, good point about TBP's quiet efforts to lock up water supplies (he's like Quantum of Solace in real life). I guess I'm slightly more relaxed about that (perhaps incorrectly) because if he overplays his hand those resources can get nationalized right out from under him with the stroke of a pen (it's happened to other water baron wannabes).

· · 4 years ago

Look up Vision Motors for Class 8 electric trucks.

· · 4 years ago


Very Philanthropic of you. Beyond the "call" of common charity.

· · 4 years ago

I think this article really missed the point. Pickens is not saying ELECTRICITY is an issue, he is saying that BATTERIES can handle heavy long-haul tasks well. Again, it can technically be done but it just doesn't make sense economically.

· · 4 years ago

schererd, nice find on Vision motors but they appear to be fuel cell vehicles, not battery electrics

· · 4 years ago


Ya they are fuel cell trucks. The class-8 truck with 80K GVWR has a range of 200-400 miles depending on fuel tank. They are being used right now at the ports of Long Beach, LA, and Houston. If H2 stations were along highway routes maybe these could be used for long haul...maybe.

jamcl3, to be fair, it does have a battery and it is electric but it also has a fuel cell for extended operation, as all fuel cell vehicles have that.

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