Milk E, New Zealand’s first electric milk tanker, has completed its first season on the job, collecting 1.5 million litres of milk from Waikato dairy farms.
Fonterra’s original plan was to see if an electric milk tanker could viably collect milk and return it to a site for processing, the co-operative’s national transport and logistics general manager, Paul Phipps, said.
“In terms of what Milk E was purchased for and what we are trying to see, I think we have had a win,” he said.
The truck was also used for publicity and promotional services, but still managed to collect milk from 330 farms throughout the season, travelling around 3200km out of its base at Waitoa, he said.
“We’re filling it up to around 23,000L and on average the runs are around 45km, which is well within the range that we were told the truck can do.”
Performance-wise, the truck was excellent and met all their expectations, he said.
Phipps said the truck also threw up challenges. The vehicle is only as good as the charging infrastructure required for its battery. The co-operative purchased a spare battery as well as a gantry for staff to safely swap it out.
“Buying the truck is the easy piece. [The greater challenge is] making sure that our infrastructure can keep this thing going, because it’s not much use if you purchase this thing and it’s sitting there on ‘charge’.”
Keeping the truck charged and in use and finding a way to plan efficiently to ensure the truck is financially viable are the two main barriers for the co-op to overcome before it purchases more of the vehicles.
Fonterra needs to create a planning tool that takes into consideration the truck’s limitations around travel and charging time, he said.
“The economics of it means that we can’t go and buy two of these to replace one diesel truck.”
With the single truck, the vehicle can be used while the spare battery is charging, but for a large electric fleet, it becomes more complex because of the logistics involved in keeping those trucks changed and operating.
“If we have a fleet of 500 trucks, we don’t want to be carrying that many batteries.”
Where chargers can be placed and whether Fonterra purchases its own chargers or goes into partnership with other companies to lower the costs are other questions that need to be answered. The economic case has to stack up and at present, it does not. However, the co-operative is exploring this further to find ways of making it more viable.
Other companies are also watching the vehicle’s performance with interest and if there is to be a change within the transport industry and these vehicles are brought in en masse, other companies have to get on board to make it cost effective, he said.
“We’re definitely talking with some big companies around what we’re learning and what they are learning, and this is right across the board because this is definitely new for everyone.”