A Collingwood engineering firm has succeeded in taking the road less travelled by building its first all-electric on-highway haul truck.
MEDATech has spent five months converting a Western Star 4900EX tractor to electric by installing their trademarked ALTDRIVE battery-electric powertrain as a commission for Teck Resources, a major Canadian miner located in south-central British Columbia.
The Collingwood-based engineering company with a staff of 40 designed, built, sold and shipped the truck.
“What’s unique that we’ve done is we’ve created this massive gearbox where two motors attach to the gearbox and there’s one output that goes to the wheels. That’s a link most other truck companies haven’t done,” said Scott Dalrymple, senior design engineer and project manager for MEDATech's drilling division.
While Dalrymple says there are other truck companies, such as Tesla and Chrysler, that aren’t far behind with the technology, he notes those companies are focusing on mass production, whereas the truck MEDATech has built was a commission and a one-off.
MEDATech is a homegrown Collingwood engineering company with a staff of 40. Their three divisions focus on engineering services, battery-electric powertrains, and advanced drilling equipment.
“I describe (our work) to my friends as, we design and build cool sh*t,” said Dalrymple. “We tell our salespeople that when customers ask, ‘Can you do this?’ just to say yes. We can do anything, it’s just a matter of time and money.”
“We have a bunch of enthusiastic engineering nerds – myself included – with big imaginations and between us we can do a lot of mechanical stuff, electric stuff and computer-controlled things,” he said. “We take on jobs where, if they’re technically possible, we’ll take them on and make it happen.”
The new tractor trailer is capable of hauling a 40,000-kilogram load. It weighs 65,000 kilograms loaded and 25,000 kilograms unloaded.
Since the loaded run is mostly downhill, the batteries charge on the way down through regenerative braking, only requiring a short additional charge at one end of the journey.
The company converted the Western Star 4900EX tractor by removing the diesel powerplant, fuel tanks, air filter and exhaust system, replacing it with their fully-electric ALTDRIVE system designed for heavy off-road equipment.
The truck is projected to eliminate 418 tonnes of CO2 annually while reducing costs through fuel savings and lower maintenance. It will make four to five 95-kilometre round-trip journeys each workday.
“We sized the battery array, motors and ancillary systems specifically for this vehicle weight, this route and this number of daily trips,” said Dalrymple.
Teck Resources is working towards a goal of reducing the carbon intensity of its operations by 33 per cent by 2030 and becoming a carbon-neutral operator by 2050.
“They wanted the truck this year. We’d done some other pieces of heavy equipment for them. We knew we could do it,” said Dalrymple. “We have staff going out to B.C. this week to train them on how to use it going up and down the hill to bring copper concentrate from a mine to a rail station.”
Should this pilot project be successful, MEDATech has said Teck Resources intends to order more.
“I’m 54. I’m an engineer and I’ve worked for a lot of companies. This is how I’m going to finish out my career which I hope takes me until the day I die. It’s a lot of fun, designing different things and figuring out what’s possible,” said Dalrymple. “It’s a great environment to work in.”