Skip to Content

Here Come the Electric Garbage Trucks

Electrifying fuel-guzzling heavy-duty trucks could cut costs and carbon emissions—in theory, at least.

While we wait and see whether electric cars will take over the roads, there’s a new vehicle up for an electric makeover: the garbage truck.

“Within five years you’ll only have electric garbage trucks,” Ian Wright, founder of the startup Wrightspeed, told Quartz. Wright is designing a truck that combines a battery with an onboard natural-gas turbine to potentially replace diesel-powered garbage trucks.

Both Wrightspeed and Nikola Motor Company are going in big for the natural gas/electric combination as the new way to power trucks (both companies say the result is a “zero-emissions vehicle,” though details are so far scarce). Wrightspeed has released a video of its truck doing doughnuts in the desert, while Nikola is promising a big reveal in December.

Garbage trucks currently get around three miles per gallon and cost $42,000 a year to fuel on average, making them prime targets for replacement with a more efficient product. Wright admits his current pricing puts his trucks at about $150,000 more expensive than their diesel-powered brethren (which start around $150,000 themselves), and that cities and private garbage haulers are unlikely to cough up that kind of money, even if they save on fuel in the long run.

Nikola, on the other hand, is going for a replacement for the tractor-trailer. The company promises a vehicle that can haul 80,000 pounds for 1,000 miles before it needs to be refueled.

Not to be outdone by a couple of upstarts, Tesla (which Wright helped found) recently dropped hints that it, too, will soon enter the race to build the ultimate green truck—perhaps unveiling the Tesla Semi sometime next year. No word on whether it will abandon its all-electric pedigree for a similar gas-turbine design, or if it has other plans (master plans, even).

The vision of long-haul trucking and garbage collection both being powered by fleets of clean, quiet, and yet still-muscular trucks is certainly appealing. There aren’t many city dwellers who would miss waking up to the growl of a diesel engine outside their window at 5 a.m. on trash day. And the benefits in reducing pollution could, in theory, be huge—trucks over 8,500 pounds account for over a fifth of carbon emissions in the U.S. transportation sector. But while it’s cool to dream big and all, it’s worth considering that less-sexy measures, like improved diesel engines and trucks that run on overhead wires, might be the best bet for a low-carbon future for trucks.

(Read more: Quartz, Green Car Reports, “Can Tractor-Trailers Go Electric Along with Cars?”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

wet market selling fish
wet market selling fish

This scientist now believes covid started in Wuhan’s wet market. Here’s why.

How a veteran virologist found fresh evidence to back up the theory that covid jumped from animals to humans in a notorious Chinese market—rather than emerged from a lab leak.

light and shadow on floor
light and shadow on floor

How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation

The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.

masked travellers at Heathrow airport
masked travellers at Heathrow airport

We still don’t know enough about the omicron variant to panic

The variant has caused alarm and immediate border shutdowns—but we still don't know how it will respond to vaccines.

This new startup has built a record-breaking 256-qubit quantum computer

QuEra Computing, launched by physicists at Harvard and MIT, is trying a different quantum approach to tackle impossibly hard computational tasks.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.