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Truck Tech: Who Needs the Infrastructure Edition

Don’t tell companies installing electric truck infrastructure that it might not be so critical after all. Californian startup Booster is using IoT and digitalization to modernize the fuel wholesaler role. Speaking of infrastructure, is the battery exchange planned for a return?

Do we really need fixed infrastructures?

Do battery-powered electric trucks need a fully developed high-speed electric infrastructure to keep them moving? What if this infrastructure was mobile? Think wheel loaders like those made by Australia’s Tritium, featured here last week.

It’s not that far-fetched. There’s already a $100 million+ business that delivers gasoline, diesel and alternative fuels directly to some of the largest delivery fleets in the country. The name Booster may not be immediately recognizable. But his $125 million Series D fundraiser caught my eye this week.

In total, the startup has raised more than $200 million, including $56 million in a Series C in 2019 with investments from the venture capital arms of car rental and fleet management company Enterprise Holdings and the integrated energy company Total SA.

Booster was founded in 2015 by Frank Mycroft, 36, a former Boeing spacecraft systems engineer with engineering degrees from Princeton, Harvard and Stanford. “I’m a bit overeducated,” Mycroft said in a phone interview.

Frank Mycroft, Founder and CEO of Booster

It embraces an engineering mindset in the refueling business. Booster is focused on serving last mile fleets with the goal of becoming a one stop shop for mid mile freight carriers. He started by delivering gasoline as an employment perk to businesses in Seattle.

Mycroft’s goal: Deliberately eliminate an aging and inefficient gasoline infrastructure by modernizing the role of the wholesaler – a buyer of fuel from a refiner who sells directly to retailers or individuals.

“The way we provide power to vehicles is outdated,” Mycroft said. “The gas station is a headache. People don’t appreciate that. Even today, with electrification, plugging in vehicles is not something people look forward to. »

Digitizing fuel delivery versus building infrastructure

Across industries, the use of digitized data has improved supply chains, fostered next-day delivery, and made consumers wait faster. So why not use data from telematics and fuel cards to find out where vehicles are, how much fuel – and possibly charge – they need and bring it to them?

“We don’t need bookstores anymore, we don’t need Blockbusters anymore. Why do we need stations for energy? Most of the time I don’t think we do,” Mycroft said.

Serving mixed fleets

Tanker trucks work well but carry only one fuel, usually gasoline. Mixed last mile fleets are Booster’s sweet spot.

“They have gasoline, they have diesel, and sometimes now they have electric vehicles,” Mycroft said. “[When] you’re doing mixed products, it’s even more technological because you have to do it right every time. Correct product. Good vehicle. At the right time.”

A row of purple Booster fuel trucks with white fuel tanks in the background
Part of Booster’s 200-truck fuel delivery fleet (Photo: Booster)

Booster offers petroleum-based diesel fuel, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) and renewable biomass-based diesel. It handles E85 ethanol and mobile electric charging drivers.

“The reason why we don’t [charging] overall, there’s actually no need yet,” Mycroft said. “We talk a lot about electric vehicles and fleets. They’re just not at a significant scale yet.

A recent study shows that total cost of ownership parity between diesel and battery-powered vans is already here. Booster could go live with mobile charging within six months. The model would likely hook up a fleet’s electric trucks to a mobile charger, fill other trucks at the same location with liquid fuels, then unplug the electric units.

Booster’s value proposition

Calculating fuel delivery works in part because it eliminates trips to the gas station by vehicles in a fleet. Foot pegs that save 5% to 8% in fuel consumption. And that does away with fuel cards, which are plagued with abuse.

“When you have to give a fuel card to every driver, you should expect that 3% to 5% of the fuel you buy will be stolen and go to other vehicles,” Mycroft said.

Booster sets a price for the fuel it sells, so part of the equation is free from wild swings. Credits from low carbon fuel standards help keep the price competitive with diesel and gasoline. Customers pay per vehicle or per subscription, “a fraction of the $30 to $50” it costs in labor and fuel to refuel away from home.

Company drivers drive Booster’s 200-vehicle fleet of Isuzu, Hino and Peterbilt cabovers using renewable fuels. Most deliveries are made after dark. The trucks are set up for maneuverability and efficiency.

“It’s a bit of a Frankenstein [monster]. It has this magical ability to load bulk unbranded supply at 600 gallons per minute,” Mycroft said. “But it’s also capable of going anywhere a small vehicle can go and delivering directly to that vehicle.”

A Booster employee wearing a yellow and orange safety vest fills a white Ford Transit van with fuel from a purple Booster mobile tanker.
A Booster truck fills a Ford Transit van. (Picture: booster)

Simplified supply chain without infrastructure

Booster’s supply chain has no gas stations, no corner real estate lots, and no brand licensing. Relationships with dozens of fuel suppliers allow Booster to load at terminals coast-to-coast in markets where it serves approximately 400 large fleet customers.

“Nothing has held back the energy transition and clean renewables more than our reliance on infrastructure,” Mycroft said. “You couldn’t do what we were doing before technology and so the fact that you have IoT and telematics actually changes the whole game.”


A return to battery swapping?

If you’ve been around electric vehicles long enough, you might remember Better Place, Israel’s electric car battery swap service. It went bankrupt in 2013, and the concept of swapping out a dead battery for a new one in minutes kind of died with it.

Today, research consultant IDTechEx reports a strong comeback of battery swapping.

Startups serving cars, two- and three-wheelers, and heavy-duty vehicles are now entering the market. In 2021, 8% of all Chinese electric vehicles were compatible with exchanges because they have rechargeable, replaceable and upgradable batteries, according to IDTechEx. Here’s more information about China’s adoption by Interact Analysis.

Battery as a service reverses the standard hourly trade-off between electric vehicles and gas-powered vehicles. Overnight charging at 110 or 220 volts takes time. DC fast chargers can charge a battery to 80% in about 30 minutes, but the battery degrades over time.

Battery swapping aims to decouple the cost of the battery from the vehicle itself. Battery maintenance, health, and cost of ownership are the responsibility of the company providing the exchange service. EV buyers simply pay for usage based on their driving needs.

Battery swap infographic for IDTechEx.

Briefly noted…

The Kenworth The Class 8 Heavy-Duty Truck Assembly Plant in Chillicothe, Ohio, honors the construction of more than 700,000 trucks since 1974 with its first truck parade on June 18.

Separately, Kenworth recently delivered its 10,000th T680 Next Generation truck to System Transport at the company’s 50th anniversary celebration in Spokane, Washington.

Deserved The shareholders of Inc. voted at a special meeting on Thursday to approve the $3.7 billion acquisition by Cummins Inc.

Electric truck makers want 10% of the $7.5 billion earmarked in the federal infrastructure bill for electric charging to be spent on medium and heavy-duty vehicles, The Verge reported.

Solo advanced vehicle technologies, featured here a few weeks ago, signed an initial agreement with American Battery Solutions to develop the battery system for the SD1 Class 8 battery-electric long-haul truck.


Grill emissions

Just in time for Memorial Day, the Diesel Technology Forum is resurrecting a decade-old gem from the University of California Riverside, which discovered that grilling a hamburger caused more particulate emissions than driving a modern diesel tractor-trailer over 143 miles.

It’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Tech by email on Fridays.

Alain