How to prepare diesel trucks for an electric future

The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate ushered the transportation industry into the digital era. Two years later, high-powered transportation management systems (TMS) and other technology-based solutions promising greater efficiency continue to flood the market. 

While technology provides unmatched visibility and transparency, carriers have come up against an unexpected problem. All the new solutions carriers are installing in their trucks require electricity to run. Trucks are not equipped to handle that increased demand, leading to breakdowns. 

“All the things on a truck now drain huge amounts of power, and the engine-mounted alternators designed over 100 years ago cannot keep up with that energy demand,” Blackburn Energy Founder and CEO Andrew Amigo said. “Blackburn’s high-efficiency charging system works to double 12-volt capacity right away.”

Blackburn’s charging system, RelGen, is located closer to the truck’s auxiliary batteries than traditional engine-mounted alternators. This helps eliminate voltage loss and promote quicker charging. It is also located behind the truck’s transmission, allowing the alternator to take advantage of higher driveshaft RPM’s at highway speeds and the transmissions torque multiplication at low speeds.

“The engine-mounted alternator has to first satisfy the electric load of the truck, then charge the starter batteries, before any of its output can be sent to the auxiliary batteries,” according to Blackburn’s website. “It is common to find engine alternators incapable of charging auxiliary batteries, leading to poor performance of electric APUs or stranded liftgates.”

The RelGen product can produce power in a closed loop system to both 12-volt and 48-volt configurations, allowing manufacturers and fleets access to these higher volts without integrating a full multi-volt system. 

“RelGen increases the fuel economy of trucks by replacing mechanical belt driven components, currently restrained by a lack of available power, with electric units–like converting mechanical power steering pumps, fuel pumps and cooling fans to 12 and 48-volt electric components,” according to Blackburn’s site. 

For fleets looking to get the most bang for their buck, upgrading to a 48-volt system may be the answer. Integrating an electric motor into a truck’s existing 12-volt system makes the transition relatively simple, and it is far less costly than going full electric. 

The higher voltage system recovers energy lost during braking and declaration, driving fuel savings and increasing dependability. 

RelGen designed to help trucks weather today’s higher electric demand without burning through traditional alternators. The product, which is designed to harness wasted energy, is easy to retrofit on existing trucks or install in new vehicles. 

“In a very small package, Blackburn has eliminated the need to upgrade the alternators on engines,” Bergstrom Managing Director and Principal Engineer Sean Connell said. “Their product keeps batteries charged better than anything we have seen before.”

Bergstrom manufactures in-cab climate systems for heavy duty trucks. Its battery-powered NITE no-idle system is designed to keep drivers comfortable in the truck while saving fuel and protecting the environment. 

Blackburn has partnered with Bergstrom to offer their products in tandem, an arrangement Connell called a “natural fit.” 

Generally, trucks need three to five hours of recharge time after 10 hours of no idle. Connell said Blackburn’s RelGen product cuts that recharge time anywhere from 20% to 40%, allowing fleets to use their trucks in the most efficient way possible. 

“There is a barrier to the adoption of new technology, and that is electricity. That’s a headwind. Alternators are running hot all day, and they’re burning out after a year.” Amigo said. “Everybody does the exact same thing. They tap into the starter batteries. All the new technology is electric. It all has an electric draw, but nobody is changing the equation of how we make and store electricity. That’s where we come in.”

The RelGen product can run completely clean by only tapping into wasted energy, or the product can be configured to meet a fleet’s energy needs. For Amigo, creating a product like RelGen is the logical next step to helping diesel trucks adjust to an electric future. 

“There will be electric trucks someday, but the diesel engine is never going away,” Amigo said. “In the car you drive today, all the components are electric. Trucks are still catching up.”