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How Technology is Changing Batteries on Commercial Vehicles

Learn how batteries on commercial vehicles have changed, and how certain batteries are better suited for specific applications.

Episode 204: Technology on trucks is rapidly changing and this impacts the type of batteries that are being used and the function they are playing keeping the truck operating.

My guest today is Jeremy Cordray the Director of Technical Sales, Transportation Markets at EnerSys.  

Jeremy Cordray is the Director of Technical Sales, Transportation Markets at EnerSys.   In this episode, learn how batteries on commercial vehicles have changed, and how certain batteries are better suited for specific applications.

While spending the last 22 years working alongside some of the brightest people in the battery industry, Jeremy Cordray has had the opportunity to present and share his knowledge, ideas and unique perspective at many conferences and seminars throughout North America.   

He has an academic background in Mathematics, Chemical Engineering, and Business.   

EnerSys is the global leader in stored energy solutions for industrial applications, manufactures and distributes energy systems solutions and motive power batteries, specialty batteries, battery chargers, power equipment, battery accessories, and outdoor equipment enclosure solutions to customers worldwide.

Guest Website: OdysseyBattery.com

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Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost-per -mile.

Technology on trucks is rapidly changing, and that means the batteries that they use have had to change as well. Things look very different today than they did even 10 or 15 years ago. And so I’m excited to talk to my guests. My guest today is Jeremy Cordray. He’s the Director of Technical Sales, Transportation Markets at EnerSys. Now Jeremy has spent 22 years working alongside some of the brightest people in the battery industry, and he’s had the opportunity to present and share his ideas and his knowledge and his unique perspective to many conferences and other events in the North American market. So he is the man who we want to talk to. He’s also got an academic background in mathematics, chemical engineering, and business. And the company that he works for EnerSys, is a global leader in stored energy solutions. They have a portfolio of products that include everything from industrial to commercial to recreational vehicle. And they also have things like specialty batteries, chargers, power, equipment, accessories, outdoor equipment for enclosures and things of that nature. So we’ve got the right person and the right company to talk to about batteries. Jeremy, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Jeremy Cordray:

Thank you, Jamie. It’s great to be here.

Jamie Irvine:

So Jeremy technology is changing fast with batteries. Could you give us an update on, you know, what’s the situation with batteries for commercial trucks today? Is there still a good, better, best, or is there other options that fleets should be considering?

Jeremy Cordray:

You’re absolutely right. Over the past four decades, we’ve really focused in batteries on that good, better, best mentality, where we had, you know, a price sensitive, a good bang for your buck and then your premium type batteries. Today, though, with the technology improvements in batteries, there’s not a bad battery built in North America. It’s all about marrying up the technology of battery to the application and that’s what it really comes into. And so where in the eighties and nineties, and even the early two thousands, we had that good, better, best, and you could walk in you into a store or a dealership and they could give you your three options. It’s no longer that way. When you walk into a place and look for a battery now you’re flooded with different options because every application is going to have a good, better, best just for that application and trucks in the heavy-duty marketplace is no different.

Jamie Irvine:

I’ve really started to see that towards the tail end of my career as a sales account manager, because I remember running into application issues, there would be one over the road type application, where they were using a lot of different things in the cab. They were running the batteries down. Then you’d have a vocational application where vibration was an issue and plates were breaking and they needed a solution for that. So certainly that was already trending in that direction. Let’s talk about some of those different options like there’s lead acid, there’s lithium batteries. Now give us an indication of what the options are and maybe some examples of where those batteries are used.

Jeremy Cordray:

In the heavy duty marketplace. We really see three or four different predominant types of batteries. We have our starting only flooded batteries. These are those high sensitive batteries where typically on a day cab or an environment where there’s not a whole lot going on, other than trying to start the truck over and over where you’re doing runs that are close to shops. If your battery fails, you can get it replaced. And that’s really a price sensitive environment, but we do have those batteries. Outside of that, we’ve seen a big push into AGM batteries since the mid two thousands, late two thousands, really around 2007, 2008 is really when we saw AGM batteries get introduced into trucking. They had a real rocky start, but with newer models, such as the new Cascadia coming out and other models, we’re seeing a big push into predominantly AGM batteries being offered even from an OEM level. And so we’re seeing AGM take a big push.

Jamie Irvine:

Before we go onto the, the other options, the AGM, just for those who maybe aren’t familiar with what that acronym stands for. They’ve got like that matting inside, and it’s something that protects against vibration. If I remember just, just go into a little bit of the technology of what makes an AGM battery different.

Jeremy Cordray:

I appreciate you stopping me because so many times, especially in batteries, especially in trucking, we talk a whole lot of acronyms without explaining what those acronyms really stand for. AGM actually stands for absorbed glass mat. Absorb glass mat is essentially all batteries are an electrochemistry, meaning we take electrical energy and we store it as chemical energy until we need it again. So when we’re storing those electrons, we’re storing them and passing them through into a chemical action. When we do that, we use a cathode and anode or a positive plate and a negative plate. Those have to be separated from each other to be sure that we can actually store the electron and not just let it out or create a constant loop inside the battery. So we utilize a separator in there. Now previously in a flooded battery and in a lot of previous technologies and batteries, we would do that by just flooding all the plates and keeping a very simple, it wasn’t even a separator.

It was a base separation between the two plates. What we found that we could do, and this actually started in the seventies, but really became predominant as we got into the two thousands, when we could manufacture these batteries easier, was rather than just have flooding the battery with the electrolyte, the sulfuric acid and water mixture that allows for the electron to pass from cathode to anode. Instead of doing that, we could actually get more plates inside the battery by taking a separator that had that electrolyte right next to the plates and utilize a smaller amount of the electrolyte, but put it in a well positioned area. And when we do that, we could put a lot more plates in as well. So an AGM battery, what it brought to the marketplace, especially in transportation, was the ability to get more capacity in the same footprint. Now, once we were able to fine tune that chemical reaction and really create an efficient path for those electrons to get stored and come out, what we were able to do was create a longer lasting, more capacity in the same footprint battery. And that’s what AGM batteries are.

Jamie Irvine:

Right. And if I remember correctly too, if those plates break or they deteriorate, the more that that occurs, the less the batteries capacity, and then eventually it just, it’s a dead battery. So especially in high vibration vocations, like logging or oil field or something like that. I remember the guys love the AGMs because those plates didn’t break. They didn’t break down as often, they lasted longer. And so then the total cost of the purchase of that battery, even though it was more than like a flooded battery, it actually costs them less in the long run.

Jeremy Cordray:

Yeah, batteries are very unique because their electrochemical storage devices, we don’t have a lot of those in the market. We hear a lot about lithium. And you mentioned all these different kinds of batteries nowadays, and it seems awfully foreign to us because we’re storing electricity in a chemical format. And there’s so many things that can go wrong with that. And if you remember back to your high school chemistry, or if you’re like me and able to do more in depth chemistry work, you realize that while there are laws in physics that affect chemistry, that always happen. It doesn’t always happen the exact same way every time and batteries are that way. And so when we analyze why a battery fails, we do something called failure mode analysis. Now sometimes we have to tear the battery down, actually cut the lid off, pull out the plates, look at those things.

I was actually doing that alongside a very large fleet and an OE just two weeks ago at our lab in Warrensburg, Missouri. And we were doing that. And what we look for are failure modes. You can have different failure modes from dry out, meaning you used up all the water in the battery. You gas it off. You can get sulfation, you can get stratification. You can get all these different things that failure that the battery fails because of those dead, so to speak. And that can tell you what, in the application it wasn’t designed to meet. So to your point, if you’re in an offroad vocational application, whether it’s a utility truck fleet or something like that, that’s really vibration out there. Mining, we see this a lot in as well. That vibration will actually shred the plate apart will vibrate it to where it just ends up falling apart, or it can tear the tabs away from the cos on the top of the battery. So there’s different types of failure mode that we can look at, but those failure modes are typically tied whenever it’s anything other than what we call PAM degradation, positive active material degradation, meaning you used up all the storage of the chemistry of the battery. And it just failed because it got old and got used up anything other than that means that we could have had a better solution for that application.

Jamie Irvine:

So going back to your point earlier about now there being different batteries for different applications and that being the situation where we don’t really have that good, better, best anymore. You said there was three or four. So what are the other two?

Jeremy Cordray:

Here at EnerSys have five plants throughout the world, three in Missouri, two over in Europe that build a technology called thin plate pure lead. I’m actually sitting right now inside the most advanced lead asset battery plant in the world. It’s in Springfield, Missouri, it’s got the newest high speed robotic line to build these type of batteries under high compression. What that means is there’s not a whole lot of additives. There’s no calcium, there’s no antimony. There’s none of these other things that get put into the battery that cause premature failures of the chemistry. So we have that. So that’s a newer technology AGM battery. It’s pretty predominant in the trucking marketplace, especially under the Northstar brand and the Odyssey brand. In addition to that, we’re also seeing some other entries. I know I have worked with some fleets over the past five to 10 years that have been toying around with ultra capacitors.

We’ve seen a big push into that. Most of that didn’t get out of the initial phase of testing, but we have a few fleets still in North America. One that comes to mind in Canada that is utilizing a four plus one environment where they use four thin plate, pure lead, advanced AGM batteries and an ultra cap so that they can always start the vehicle via that ultra cap, but they’ve separated the circuit and they’ve done some other things. So there’s some technologies like that. Now the biggest question I get asked, anytime I’m speaking at a conference, especially in heavy-duty or I’m at a trade show, I don’t think I was asked question no less than 20 times at TMC in the spring, but it was about lithium and specifically, how do I start testing lithium in my fleet? And I start asking more about that.

And this is a lithium in diesel engine question. How can I replace on a 12 volt side, my lead acid batteries with lithium batteries. So I get longer run times in some of the benefits. Well, the first thing we need to understand is in lithium right now, we have two ways of looking at lithium in transportation. One in high voltage packs, whether it’s an electric vehicle or a hybrid vehicle plugin hybrid, we see a lot of that out there, a high voltage pack. And then we see low voltage batteries. These are typically right now in the marketplace, lithium iron phosphate. It’s a different chemistry than the lithium iron, the lithium nickel metal cobalt. Some of the other technologies are out there. Lithium iron phosphate is really the predominant lithium chemistry for 12 volt batteries. We see that right now, making a push in mostly marine environments.

We haven’t seen a good effective use of it in trucking. As of yet. I never say technology doesn’t work in an industry because I always think technology is growing and changing. But what we are seeing right now is that thin plate, pure lead advanced AGM batteries have a lot more pros than lithium iron phosphate in trucking. So we’re not seeing a big push into that. Now once we go into lithium iron phosphate, there’s a whole different array of challenges from VMS and other things that we would need to do to get it in. So right now we’re not seeing lithium on trucks, but it’s a question that everybody comes up with, especially on the 12 volt side.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re gonna take quick break. We’ll be right back. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. Looking for high-quality fuel injection for heavy-duty applications? Having one supplier for fuel injection allows you to better serve customers by providing them with a complete line, which increases your sales and profitability. Learn more at ambacinternational.com/aftermarket. We’re back from our break. And before the break we were talking about a different types of batteries. Jeremy, I could listen to you all day. I feel smarter just having a chance to talk to you for 15 minutes, but we’re not done yet. We want to talk about some of the changes in technology that are impacting the trucking industry. So let’s talk about APUs and we’re gonna put a little letter E in front of that what’s going on in that space.

Jeremy Cordray:

So I’m actually working on a paper right now on fleet electrification. Where do I start? It’s a white paper just to help fleets and not just heavy duty fleets, but all kinds of fleets start talking about electrification. What we see in the media right now is a whole lot of when is every vehicle going to be fully electric or zero emissions or things like that by 2030, 2035, 2040 put a date to it. Well, that’s important to get to a zero emissions goal. That’s a great goal, but one of the key pieces of electrification, a lot of people lose focus. Isn’t about electrifying the propulsion system. It’s about electrifying the other pieces on the vehicle and in class eight trucks, especially as well as vocational trucks, we are seeing a huge push in electrication of the parts and pieces outside of propulsion. And what you mentioned APU we have seen over the past 10 years, a push to electronic a or electric APU units that is unlike any other.

Now that presents a whole nother challenge. Once you go to an electric APU unit, but what it does is it allows you to move towards some of these steps. I feel that the EAPU is equivalent to in your car of doing start stop, where your car pulls up to a stop sign. The engine shuts off until it’s ready to go again. The increase in PGS that we are seeing on car fleets from that technology alone, in my opinion, is just as impactful as EAPUs being implemented across trucking fleets in north America. Because by not having to run those diesel APUs overnight, while we’re using that power, we are reducing the carbon footprint dramatically, increasing the overall MPGs of that truck very dramatically. Now, when you do that, you introduce another set of batteries on the truck. Now today’s trucks are designed to where that’s all one circuit actually.

So it’s not isolated. Meaning that that secondary set will also be tied in to help start the truck as well. And so we’re seeing them run separate circuits off of the alternator, but we’re still seeing them stay on the same circuit now, because they’re far away from the alternator, as opposed to the under step batteries, we are seeing some challenges with how we do it. New technologies, such as remote sense, better battery management systems both on the APU as well as on the truck are really addressing evenly charging those batteries. So you’re right, this new technology we’re seeing, especially with E APUs and solar, we’re seeing a lot of solar come in with those APUs, helping keeping them topped off, helping add additional charge into the system. When the engine is, are running, all those technologies are really moving us forward.

Jamie Irvine:

We actually just had Green Road Energy on the show and they were, they’re developing basically a wind turbine that as the vehicles propelled down the highway, it’s capturing that wind and providing an electrical charge to keep those batteries topped up. So there’s all kinds of different ways of getting there. You mentioned how right now we’ve got government mandates and we’re, we’re really seeing a push from the political side. When I was doing a bit of research ahead of our discussion, I came across this new European battery regulation. That that seems to be pretty prolific in the news, not necessarily in our mainstream media, but it’s out there if you search for it, are these kinds of regulations that will be seen in Europe. Are they gonna impact the North American market? What do you think the impact is gonna be on us?

Jeremy Cordray:

It constantly changes. It doesn’t matter what technology it is, how it comes about, where you are seeing things change faster today than we’ve ever seen before. And you have to stay up with those type of things. Electrification and EVs were the big push, especially for fleets and things like that up until a couple years ago. And we started seeing a big push to zero emissions. Let’s let’s realize that maybe it’s not electric vehicles. Hydrogen may have a place to play in this, which is essentially an internal combustion engine with a different fuel source other than diesel. And so the goal is zero emissions. And I think we’re gonna continue to see a shift from focusing on electrification only to zero emissions to reducing our carbon footprint, whether we can do that via solar, wind, many other forms, hydrogen, there’s some great technology out there utilizing nitrogen for refrigeration units and on trailers and like that there’s some great technologies out there.

I don’t think any of us know, and I will throw batteries into this as well. Right now we’re really focused on lithium batteries, right? But Tesla has announced some research that they’ve done on a nickel-based battery that they feel can last upwards of a hundred years on electric vehicles. So it may not even be lithium batteries that comes into play long term from an electrification standpoint. The biggest key here is to keep our eye on the prize, which is zero emissions, a reducing our carbon footprint. If we keep our eye on that end goal, we’ll be able to ebb and flow with these changes, whether it’s raw materials based whether it’s manufacturing based, whether it’s technology of electrochemistry based, we’ll be able to ebb and flow with those. So as we keep our eye on the horizon, which is that zero emissions

Jamie Irvine:

And then the regulations and whatnot, it’s a moving target. So those things are gonna change anyway. So when we’re talking about the long-term future of the trucking industry, obviously autonomous vehicles are gonna play a role to your point. And I agree with you a hundred percent. I think we’re gonna see a Omni propulsion system available, meaning many different propulsion systems. What do you think the long term impact on batteries is gonna be? Especially if we have, let’s say a fully autonomous vehicle that that for example is electric.

Jeremy Cordray:

So there’s a lot of chemistry today, a battery chemistry today that could solve a lot of our problems that we struggle with. You know, we need more power or the more we put more technology, we put on a truck, especially autonomous, more energy consumption, more power generation we’re gonna need on the truck. And so, as we deal with that, we’re looking for lighter, more energy density, all these things. Today EnerSys we build batteries that get used for aerospace and defense. So on the James web telescope, for instance, we made the batteries that have gone up into space and get utilized with that. That is a technology of lithium batteries, which is about half the weight of most lithium batteries. It’s called lithium NMC. And you can read a lot about it. It’s a really predominant technology out there. One of the challenges it’s very, very expensive and it’s not easy to manufacture.

So we have to ebb and flow and figure out how those technologies are gonna come in. And I think that autonomy is going to actually propel us forward a lot faster than some of the EV work that we’re doing. I think autonomy is going to require us to do multiple circuits on the truck. EV we’re separating a diesel engine, internal combustion engine truck has one circuit. It’s a 12 volt circuit and all the accessories jump on that circuit. You have your circuit on the truck. The alternator’s 12 volt. Everything is 12 volt in the truck. And EV truck has two circuits that are combined with the DC to DC charger and converter. And that unit has a low voltage, 12 volt circuit, and then a high voltage, depending on the truck and the battery package, circuit. Autonomy, we are seeing the first major autonomy trucks, whether it’s Diamler with Waymo or some of the other ones that are out there, we’re seeing up to three or more circuits on the truck, typically of the same voltage.

And that’s from a redundancy standpoint because of safety with autonomy, we can get there with the safety and with the way the cameras are nowadays. Over in Europe, it’s fascinating to see the removal of a side view mirrors on trucks as they replace them with cameras. I’m sure we’ve all seen on social media, the Samsung truck that actually shows you what is in front of the truck, on the back doors of the trailer, on the truck. And so there’s some of those technologies out there we will start seeing, but autonomy is definitely here to stay. And it’s really, it’s such a big consumption thing. And if power goes out or if it drops below a certain voltage, even for a split second, a fraction of 100th of a second, it’s like putting your hands over a driver’s eyes in a regular driven truck. So that’s not something that can be allowed to happen. So we’re gonna see a big push on autonomy and trucks from a safety standpoint to increase the power that is being stored on these trucks.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And we’ve been speaking with Jeremy, the Director of Technical Sales, Transportation Markets at EnerSys. To learn more about their company, go to their branded website, Odysseybattery.com. Links are in the show notes. Jeremy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report.

Jeremy Cordray:

Thank you, Jamie.

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