The push is on to gradually diminish and eventually eliminate the gargantuan role of the time-honoured internal combustion engine (ICE), replacing it with electric motors.
One of the biggest challenges with electrifying long haul trucks is providing the sustainable power necessary for lengthy inter-capital or transcontinental journeys.
With charging truck batteries in situ and en route being prohibitively time consuming, why not have a truck with an exchangeable battery that can be easily removed by a forklift and replaced with a fully charged item, with the whole process taking just a few minutes?
This was the thinking of Lex Forsyth and Bevan Dooley, who co-founded Janus Electric based at Berkeley Vale on the Central Coast of New South Wales in 2019.
These two men head up an operation that is literally changing the face of trucking in Australia.
Starting with a conventional (bonneted) prime mover, the company removes the diesel engine and associated componentry such as fuel tanks and installs a Dana TM4 electric motor/inverter which couples directly to the truck’s existing automated manual transmission (AMT).
Lex Forsyth, General Manager of Janus Electric, points out that the beauty of the Janus conversion is that the existing driveline from the transmission back remains untouched.
Furthermore, he maintains, the cost of converting a diesel-powered prime mover into a Janus Electric unit is around the same as rebuilding the diesel engine.
Another salient point is that the electric motor/inverter takes up much less space than a 15-litre diesel engine, which means solutions work in both cab over and bonneted trucks.
The transition to the Janus Side Battery (JSB) enables one battery to fit all trucks and no modification to the cab or bonnet of the truck having to be converted.
“We are using the Dana TM4 SUMO products in both the 350kW and the new 540kW version and we have a number of fleets that have signed up with us to convert their existing trucks,” Lex says.
The Dana TM4 SUMO HD produces peak power of 250-370kW and maximum torque of 2,700-4,000Nm, while the TM4 SUMO HP has peak power of 540kW and maximum torque of 2,500Nm.
Lex explains that the technology Janus is using in its conversions, including the Dana TM4 motors, is a proven and tested formula.
“There are about 130,000 of these motors operating around the world in various applications, and we have simply taken the Dana TM4 technology and put it into a really smart solution to reduce the carbon footprint of transport in this country,” Lex says, adding, “We are focused on getting Australian transport to carbon zero as soon as possible; not in 2030, 2040 or 2050 — it can be done now.”
It’s well documented that there are two pathways to achieving electric power of trucks: hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric.
According to Lex, battery electric is the best option.
“Bevan and I sat down in late 2019 and crunched the numbers on hydrogen but we just couldn’t make it stack up as a viable option. If it had, we would have a hydrogen solution today,” he says. “The battery electric vehicle and the electric motor/inverter that Dana provides us makes it stack up from a cost/benefit analysis viewpoint.”
Further to this, Lex says Janus works on the principle of not overcomplicating the design and working with the truck manufacturers to produce the best result.
“At present we are using two of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) AMTs, but we plan to eventually build our own transmission that will better integrate with the electric motor,” he says.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Janus design for long haul trucking is the exchangeable battery packs.
The company envisions having a network of recharging stations at strategic locations along Australia’s major freight routes that will ensure electric trucks are not left stranded with insufficient range to complete the journey.
As such, the company is heavily involved with initiating the recharging network as critical infrastructure to enable the success of its electric truck conversions.
“You must understand the whole picture with this sort of initiative, if you don’t it can really cause some problems for the fleet operators,” Lex says. “For example, you can’t just go to mass electrification with a plug-in solution because it can black out the grids.”
Lex says he saw this phenomenon first-hand when he visited Amsterdam in 2019.
“Amsterdam has the highest number of electric vehicles per capita of population in the world and they had to relay their electricity grid to cope with the peak demand in the late afternoon when everyone plugs in to recharge,” he says, adding, “If every truck depot in Australia installed a fast charger, we would have exactly the same problem here.”
To avert this issue, Lex explains, the Janus solution is to switch off the charging of its batteries during the peak demand periods.
He says that this is possible because the trucks aren’t parked up to be charged, rather the batteries are charged out of the vehicle and then are ready to be exchanged when needed.
Another advantage of the Janus system, Lex points out, is that future advances in battery technology can be incorporated to reduce battery weight, which translates to a reduction in all-important tare weight.
“In the last three months, just through evolutionary changes in battery cell technology, we’ve managed to pull one-tonne of weight from the batteries,” Lex says.
Another advantage Janus has is that the batteries don’t need to be fast charged, which means longer battery life and full capacity charging.
“Fast charging is fantastic, but you only get about 60 per cent of the charge capacity into the battery and the process tends to shorten the life of the cells,” Lex remarks. Returning to the reasons why Janus Electric has partnered with Dana TM4 for its electric motor/inverter needs, Lex says the great thing about Dana is that it is a turn-key solution.
“It’s a great product which is very easy to work with and the after-sales service and support from the Dana people including the engineering team is fantastic,” Lex enthuses. “They have provided a very reliable, simple and easy solution for us to move forward with and being a robust, tried and tested product, we know it will stand the test of time.”
Lex says that Dana TM4 has shown Janus Electric great commitment and support.
“They’ve shown us great support and loyalty and we intend to return the favour by using their products exclusively now and into the future,” he says.
In the final wrap-up, it would seem the mutually beneficial partnership between Janus Electric and Dana TM4 has enabled the development of a ground-breaking solution for the viable electrification of long-distance heavy-weight truck movements, both in this country and abroad.