Electrification of Industrial Logistics

Alan Ohnsman, Senior Editor, Forbes joined Grayson Brulte on The Road To Autonomy Podcast to discuss the electrification of industrial logistics.

The conversation begins with Alan and Grayson discussing who is going to win as multiple industries shift to electrification.

Most of the attention has gone to say Tesla and the passenger car market. But what’s happening on the heavy-duty industrial vehicle side, I think is probably more exciting because they can actually move a lot faster. It’s hard to get consumers to change buying habits.

– Alan Ohnsman

While a lot of attention in and around electrification is currently being paid to passenger and heavy-duty industrial vehicles, freight rail is beginning to emerge as an interesting opportunity for electrification.

A freight train is a power plant on wheels.

– Alan Ohnsman

As freight trains begin to become electrified, an opportunity arises to connect freight rail to electric heavy-duty trucks, creating intermodal 2.0. One of the keys to making this happen is positive train control which has created a more intelligent rail network.

You both have the opportunity to move way more freight more efficiently than ever before, and if you can electrify it, so much the better. If you could then tie your railheads and depots into autonomous trucking networks, you got something really interesting going on.

So there is so much potential to increase efficiency, while also cutting carbon emissions from rail and freight movement across the United States over the next five to ten years. It’s really remarkable.

– Alan Ohnsman

With the shift to global electrification, a majority of the infrastructure for heavy-duty industrial applications still has to be developed. Additionally, there are still uncertainties around the global supply chain for precious metals that are needed to make batteries. Is there enough supply?

Based on current technologies, there is probably not enough supply out there. There just isn’t.

– Alan Ohnsman

Does a potential global shortage of precious metals, create a market opening for hydrogen to gain market share and acceptance with industrial applications? Grayson and Alan discuss the potential opportunities for hydrogen and why an industrial company could embrace hydrogen as an alternative to gas.

But at its current stage, hydrogen is not clean. The same could be said for the mining of lithium as Serbia’s government recently revoked a lithium mining permit due to the potential environmental costs of the project.

In California, there are also environmental concerns around mining for lithium in the Salton Sea. With a projected capability of mining 600,000 metric tons of lithium a year from the Salton Sea, will this become a political issue? Potentially as there is a great economic incentive and potential national security issue developing around lithium.

With potentially limited precious metals and a focus on carbon impact, there is an opportunity to introduce and create a circular economy. Volvo is taking the first steps with their soon-to-be-introduced Polestar Zero.

Wrapping up the conversation, Alan discusses what happens if hydrogen could be made from renewable sources of energy and the impact that would have on industrial logistics.

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Recorded on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.