This is how the commercial vehicle market is being electrified

Jon Lawson

It’s not just cars that are being electrified. Sweden’s Volta Trucks has launched its new Volta Zero, which is its first purpose-built full-electric 16-tonne commercial vehicle designed specifically for inner-city parcel and freight distribution. It will start operator trials with some of Europe’s largest parcel delivery and logistics companies next year. Orders have been taken from companies wanting to secure the first customer-specification vehicles, which are due to be delivered when production starts in 2022.

Rob Fowler, Chief Executive Officer of Volta Trucks said, “Commercial vehicles form the lifeblood of commerce and livelihoods in cities, but today’s large trucks dangerously impose themselves on our streets and dominate their surroundings. With the launch of the Volta Zero, we are changing the face of road transport. Volta Trucks is redefining the perception of the large commercial vehicle, and how it operates in and integrates with, the zero-emission towns and cities of the future. This is made possible by the three pillars that define both Volta Trucks as a business and the Volta Zero - safety, sustainability, and electrification.”

The removal of the traditional internal combustion engine enabled the designers of the truck to completely rethink how a truck has always been designed. 

The driver has 220-degrees of direct vision around the vehicle. This panoramic view of the surroundings through a glasshouse-style cab is designed to deliver a Transport for London five-star Direct Vision Standard rating for optimum visibility and the reduction of blind spots. The protection of vulnerable road users is also enhanced by the use of rear-view cameras that replace traditional mirrors, a 360-degree birds-eye camera showing the driver their complete surroundings, and blind-sport warning systems that detect objects down the sides of the vehicle.

The driver of a Volta Zero sits far lower than in a conventional truck, with their eye-line at around 1.8 meters. This mirrors the height of pedestrians and other road users nearby for easy visual communication between the driver and others around.

Safety and comfort for the driver have been optimised by minimising cognitive overload. The design of the cabin is contemporary, spacious, and light with intuitive user interfaces. The central display conveys critical information while touch screens on each side are used for lights, climate control, navigation and trip planning, communication, and in-cab media. To aid ingress and egress, the removal of the internal combustion means the driver sits in a central driving position with a swivel seat. He or she have easy access through fast opening sliding doors on either side of the cabin to enter or exit either side of the vehicle into the busy or narrow streets.

Carl-Magnus Norden, Founder of Volta Trucks observed, “Safety is at the heart of the Volta brand for one simple reason. In London, as an example, 23% of pedestrian fatalities and 58% of cyclist deaths involve an HGV, yet large trucks only account for 4% of road miles. This is clearly unacceptable and must change. The Volta Zero completely reimagines the commercial vehicle, ensuring it can operate safely with all road users and become a friend of the zero-emission city”.

It will be equipped with the latest Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). ADAS electronic systems help driving, safety, manoeuvring, and parking, and make a significant contribution to the safe operation of larger vehicles. The driver will benefit from technologies such as Active Steering, Road Sign Assist, and Reversing Assistant with reversing camera, ensuring they have the latest safety support systems when operating in the confines of the city centre. While on the move, Lane Change Assist and Lane Departure Warning systems ensure that the truck operates as safely as possible. The vehicle’s operator also benefits from a technical status monitoring system, based on artificial intelligence, that avoids breakdowns and maximises the uptime of the vehicle.

Sustainability ambitions

“Sustainability is at the very core of our business. Saving the planet cannot wait, it must happen now, and Volta Trucks wants to spearhead the rapid change in large commercial vehicles, from outdated diesel to clean and safe technological solutions,” says Carl-Magnus Norden, founder of Volta Trucks.

It will be the first road vehicle to use a sustainably sourced natural Flax material and biodegradable resin in the construction of exterior body panels, with the cab’s dark body panels and many interior trims constructed from the natural material. The Flax weave was developed by Bcomp of Switzerland, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, and is currently used in 16 of the world’s most competitive motor racing series.

The weave is reinforced with Bcomp’s patented powerRibs grid technology. The result is a fully natural, extremely lightweight, high-performance fibre matting that is almost CO2 neutral over its lifecycle. It also matches the stiffness and weight of carbon fibre but uses 75% less CO2 to produce. The matting is combined with a biodegradable resin by Bamd in the UK, to produce the body panels for the Volta Zero. The fully bio-based resin, derived from Rape Seed oil, creates a naturally brown coloured matting and a black natural pigment dye is added to complete its darker, technical appearance.

At the end of their useful life, the Flax composite parts can be burnt within the standard waste management system and used for thermal energy recovery, unlike alternative composite materials that are usually sent to landfill.

It is also safer for vehicles operating in inner-city environments. Should an accident occur, the Flax composite bends, reshapes and ultimately snaps, offering a flexible fracture behaviour without sharp edges. This reduces the risk of sharp debris that can injure people or cause further accidents through punctures.

Should an incident occur, thanks to the cab’s inner metal spaceframe structure, simulations have shown that this use of composite body panels has the same crash and safety performance as conventional steel material.


How to reduce EVs straining the grid

Nuvve Corporation from San Diego is providing solutions for school districts and utilities to deploy electric school buses that can provide significant benefits to the electric grid and help curb the need for utility providers to force rolling blackouts. During normal years, let alone in the midst of a pandemic when people are staying at home for more hours per day, electricity shortages become a real issue in the western US in hot months. When people are at home, they turn on their air conditioning, do the laundry, wash the dishes, and more which creates a large peak of demand in the evening which is when renewable energy source power production is low.

Nuvve's new vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology enables electric vehicle batteries to store and discharge energy to the grid, providing a storage solution for these renewable energy sources. Electric school buses offer a prime storage solution to enable V2G grid services because they have large batteries that stay parked and connected to charging stations most of the day. They also have the potential to act as a virtual power plant (VPP) by aggregating vehicle batteries across a region to provide energy when needed. Electric school buses could be deployed before power outages occur in areas that are experiencing high demand with low power availability. In the future, electric buses could even provide emergency power back-up for areas that have already lost power. 


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