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The trailer for trucks with an electric motor

YOU TRAIN ME, I WILL HELP YOU – The tasks seemed clear: the tractor pulled, the trailer it was being dragged along and the articulated lorry was moving. The California startup Range Energy he wants to subvert this millennia-old axiom (bullock carts are lost in the mists of time) by proposing a trailer complete with an electric motor and batteries, of which he tells wonders. The first great promise is to easily electrify semi-trailers whose tractor is powered by any fuel, including electric ones like the Tesla Semi. All without the need for modifications of any kind. The idea is to relieve engine strain in order to reduce consumption and wear while simultaneously increasing driving safety.

THE INTELLIGENT PIN – But how is it possible that a push from behind doesn’t destabilize the tractor plus trailer combination, also considering that there isn’t an ‘informational’ link between who is towing and who is being towed (so to speak)? The secret lies in the kingpin which engages in the fifth wheel and transmits traction to the trailer while allowing the latter to turn during manoeuvring. The Range Energy trailer indeed has one smart kingpin equipped with sensors which detect the intensity and direction of traction, braking and lateral forces in curves. The sensors on the bolt detect these forces and their signals, together with those of the others (all vehicles now have several sensors, which are necessary for example for the functioning of the ESP), suitably drive the electric motor connected to one of the rear axles.

CONSUMPTION AND EMISSIONS DOWN – Range Energy promises a reduction of emissions (and consumption) of diesel engines up to 41%, imposing no changes both to the tractors and to the way they are used. In short, this trailer transforms a conventional semi-articulated vehicle into a hybrid one, also keeping the energy recovery braking of this type. The technical data speak of 200 kWh batteries at 800 volts, a 350 kW/476 HP engine and 14,000 Nm at the wheels. There recharge takes place at 19 kW in alternating current and up to 350 kW in direct current. The company, which is based in the same Mountain View as Google, has talked about the possibility of mounting various types of connectors for charging (even on the roof of the trailer) and even contacts in the rear of the trailer so as to charge it automatically when it approaches the goods loading/unloading platform.

SAFETY INCREASES – The idea of ​​a trailer that pushes is counterintuitive but just think of articulated buses, in which the driving axle is often the furthest back of all, to understand how this solution is usually applied. Range Energy even sees security benefits: By adding control to the rear axle, a truck can implement the stability control and the avoidance of the dreaded Jackknifing effect, where the trailer pushes so hard that it overtakes the tractor with disastrous loss of control. Regenerative braking also protects the brakes from overheating on descents, increasing their life.

CLEAN OPERATIONS – This trailer also allows the operation with zero local emissions, including sound ones, in many situations: let’s think of pushing the tractor with the engine off (it would only serve to steer) in ports or inhabited centres. Having batteries and motors on board allows, for example, autonomous movement and the easy addition of a motorized tail lift or a refrigeration unit. This trailer also has the V2G bidirectional charging and therefore could be used to power external equipment or to balance the grid, perhaps making money on it by “selling” electricity when the trailer is parked and plugged in.

A LIGHTENABLE BALLAST? – Obviously at least one weakness is there and it’s about the weight: the Range Energy system weighs around 1800 kg, a mass which is added to that of the trailer and which subtracts an equivalent quantity of payload, given that the total weight of the tractor + trailer + load cannot exceed, in the USA, the value of 36.29 tons. The legislator allows electric tractors and trucks, which are heavier, to reach a gross vehicle weight of 37.19 tons, but the electric trailer does not qualify for this concession. On the other hand, since nearly all EPA and CARB (California Environmental Agency) regulation is off trailers, Range Energy will have fewer paperwork to get to market and this, coupled with the fact that the engine must not be modified, it will make the time to market faster. The company’s management team has many exponents who come from Tesla, Zoox and Honda: will these brilliant minds be able to convince the bureaucracy that their trailer helps the environment?

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