New Dawn

Team Global Express has recently marked the official opening of its flagship Bungarribee site where it is now operating 60 battery electric trucks. Not without its challenges, the project nevertheless represents a major milestone in the transport and logistics industry.
Volvo FL Electric trucks at TGE's new depot of the future.

Within a satellite suburb of western Sydney, Team Global Express has transformed one of its 147 depots into a transport node, the likes of which, it is safe to say, has not been seen before in this country.

Over 60 battery electric trucks on pick-up and delivery duties are based at Bungarribee.

The vehicles, which constitute a mix of 36 Volvo Electric FL units and 24 Fuso eCanters, attend nearby distribution centres and supermarkets, returning to base at night to plug into one of 63 charging stations installed on a premises that has undergone significant redevelopment.

Known internally as Project Cobra, a $44.3 million project supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to the tune of $20.1 million in funding, the site now includes 47 7/22kW AC slow chargers and 16 400kW DC fast chargers. A range of determining factors ultimately favoured the location over the shortlisted others.

Available energy and spare capacity along with the amount of real estate required for parking up trucks and their application were among the dominant criteria. Much of the financial analysis and subsequent investment was predicated on the site layout.

As truck movements needed to be limited according to payload, postcode and distance required, modifications took place involving a conveyer system situated on one side of the yard for the trucks.

The main switchboards were organised to exploit extra capacity of about 800amps so that the slow chargers could be arrayed down one side and the fast chargers down the other.

Team Global Express has been able to pioneer operational innovations that most other companies would never dare at a similar infancy. Of course, the business wasn’t invented ex nihilo, having resulted from the seismic divestment in 2021 of the greater part of the general and overnight freight division of Toll Group.

Heather Bone, TGE ESG Manager.
Heather Bone, TGE Director ESG, initiated Project Cobra in 2022.

Even so, it has been forthright in its stance, during the foundational phase of establishing the new company brand, in reducing the Scope 1 emissions profile outlined in early 2022 by CEO Christine Holgate, whose expressed vision is to make Team Global Express Australia’s most sustainable logistics company.

That vision, because of Project Cobra, has begun to take shape. Team Global Express Director ESG, Heather Bone, whose brainchild the project was, is best placed to recount the stages, quotidian obstacles and eventual progress made since her pivotal decision to reach out to ARENA.

“At the time we made a decision that we needed to go hard or go home on this because the impact on the depot was going to be so enormous,” she recalls. “We needed to narrow down the site and the application of the trucks that were going to make sense given we were quite limited by the EV trucks that we wanted to use.”

Primarily a PUD site where vehicles are designated B2B work, the depot affords the fleet, through its proximity to last mile destinations, a radius of around 40 kilometres.

The Fuso eCanter can comfortably travel between 100 to 150 kilometres per day depending on the payload. It is limited to three tonnes. The Volvo FL Electric, with its bigger 7-tonne payload, can achieve over 250 kilometres a day but in Heather’s experience these distances are already being exceeded.

“We’ve had one driver come back with more battery than he had when he left with in the morning,” she says. “Talking and working with the drivers and training them around regenerative braking has been really imperative.”

During the embryonic stages of operating the new battery electric trucks, Heather was involved in union negotiations every morning to hear concerns from the team and to provide a platform for drivers to ask questions on how they might be affected.

“I am just astonished how the drivers have taken to them,” she says. “Once they have learned how to optimise both the Fuso and Volvos, they absolutely love them.”

The battery electric trucks have equally been feted by some of the new female drivers. As a registered training organisation, Team Global Express is a partner of the Volvo Iron Woman program which several of its team members recently have come through.

Heather Bone charging one of the 60 electric trucks on site.
The Bungarribee depot features 63 truck battery chargers.

“Four of our site ladies have been directly trained by Volvo for several weeks and they’ve gone from jobs in the office and roles at the depot to being drivers,” says Heather. “We’ve had a strong cohort of ladies putting up their hands to drive these new trucks.”

Significant changes on the site included demarcation of these two separated charging zones. The fast chargers were positioned adjacent to a cafeteria where drivers can have lunch or a coffee during the day and top up their batteries.

Spare distribution volume on each of the high current MSBs, each with a capacity of 1500amps, facilitated strong voltage coming into the depot but not where they needed it in the battery charging arena.

Cables from the main switchboard, in turn to help fortify the energy inputs, needed to be run along the roofline of the depot. It resulted, subsequently, in a shutdown of the power at certain times, usually on weekends when the work was scheduled.

“You can image how popular that was at a 24/7 depot,” says Heather.

The obstacles have scarcely been forgotten. Heather recalls, not in strict chronological order, some of the more memorable challenges.

A fragment of asbestos, likely dropped by a bird passing overhead, was found on site during all of this. That necessitated another shutdown. This time for 30 days.

“We had to excavate five cubic metres of soil out from around this 20 cent piece of asbestos,” recalls Heather. “The flow on effects of something like this proved enormous.”

There were other delays caused by weather. High rainfall prevented the pouring of concrete. Cables could not be laid. Later on, once the trucks were up and running, unseasonal hot weather contributed to the first vehicle being stranded, albeit less than two kilometres from base.

With the mercury soaring to 42° celsius, conditions were less than ideal for any type of working equipment.

“You don’t do a trial expecting that nothing is going to go wrong and our first one came back last week that needed to be towed,” says Heather. “The driver was doing everything he could to make it back. It was 42° in Sydney that day. It was horribly hot.”

The truck had until that point had covered 123 kilometres comfortably.

“Of course, the air conditioning had been running for the whole day because it was so hot,” explains Heather. “A combination between the two of those factors just meant the truck ran out of energy.

She adds, “It’s all a learning.”

Given the nature and complexity of the enterprise it won’t be the last.

“You can’t underestimate the things that are likely to go wrong along the way,” she says. “If you’re planning on whacking in a few chargers and bringing in a few trucks it’s simply doesn’t work that way. It’s far more complicated than that.”

The wealth of knowledge garnered from the undertaking of Project Cobra will provide intelligence for the business across a raft of different areas from change management, site infrastructure, project planning, e-mobility solutions, battery technology and integrated grid management.

Early on, Heather and her team identified that assiduous energy management would be crucial to the success of the new look depot.

Because the trucks are deployed during the day, Team Global Express has the luxury of charging the vehicles at night on a slow charge. Plugging them in after 4pm, however, presents another issue — peak rates.

To avoid paying 500 cents per kilowatt/hour rather than say, for example, 12 cents per kilowatt/hour, a load management system (LMS) was introduced to oversee the time at which the energy is feeding through to the trucks.

“It would not make any economic sense if you’re paying a huge amount for the energy of the trucks,” says Heather. “It would completely blow the financials.”

The LMS can wake the plugged-in trucks from sleep mode during times the grid is less in demand and power prices are lower. Team Global Express is currently working with the truck OEMs on a software interface for this function as it has proven problematic to date. Solar panels and a battery have also been installed on site.

“We want to be able to use that battery to coincide with when the energy is really expensive on the grid so we can arbitrage the market,” says Heather.

“That way we’re not really paying anything for the energy because we’ll have solar feeding into the battery.”

There are 36 electric Volvos working on site.
The Volvo FL Electric is already exceeding its range of over 250 kilometres a day with a with a 7-tonne payload.

Taking the extra time to drill down on the engineering and electrical work from the initial planning and project commencement has been beneficial according to Heather and not without some pleasant surprises.

“What we’ve found is the trucks aren’t coming back empty of course,” she says. “A majority of the time they’re coming back at 60 per cent or 70 per cent battery capacity which means they’re charging very quickly.”

Heather is excited by what promises to be the dawn of a new era for the business.

Having a whole fleet of electric trucks at her disposal rather than a single unit provides an opportunity to better understand large data samples. How might they optimise the delivery routes? What is the most efficient way to use energy?

As soon as the fleet can start accessing a wider set of data over the next six to 12 months, Heather foresees educated changes of behaviour in the business being facilitated based on the numbers returned.

“We’ve got a huge amount of interest out of customers in how we might change our delivery routes and how they get involved in the project to optimise it,” Heather says.

“Things like how we can work with our customers to provide them with an alternative offering that is lower in carbon than diesel, for example, becomes a very real proposition.”

These are, for the moment, grounds for genuine excitement, according to Heather, as the residual value of the project becomes, upon its conclusion, self-evident. Another aspect of this major education growth, to name one, implicates electric vehicle maintenance.

“In doing it at the size that we are, we’re going to learn very different lessons than someone with only just one truck,” she says.

“There’s a limit to what you can learn out of one truck whereas when you’ve got 60 you can say let’s look at how we can arbitrage the market and lower our energy costs and those sorts of things as well.”

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