The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast: The Future of Semi Truck Auxiliary Power Units

Trucking expert, DJ Hasler standing and smiling in front of a semi-truck holding a Battle Born GC3 Battery.

Commercial trucking is an essential form of transportation utilized around the clock and across the globe. The industry creates a lot of solutions for the economy, but also faces a lot of problems like its carbon footprint, keeping drivers safe and comfortable, and high diesel prices affecting the company’s bottom line. Dragonfly Energy’s trucking expert, DJ Hasler dives into these issues and how lithium technology can provide not only an emissions solution but also one that tackles driver safety and the trucking company’s bottom line. 

Lithium Ion in the Trucking Industry

Trucking expert, DJ Hasler standing in front of a semi truck smiling and holding a Battle Born GC3 battery.

DJ Hasler is a passionate advocate for improving trucking conditions and elevating truck companies’ daily operations. vast experience in the trucking industry, DJ has been working with power conversions for the last 15 years, getting his start at Schneider Electric. His experience with batteries led him to find that trucking companies often face conflicts when it comes to powering their trucks’ hotel loads and keeping their drivers safe and comfortable. Companies face the dilemma of idling their trucks all night, which is not only expensive and emission-heavy but also loud and disruptive during important driver rest periods.  DJ is committed to finding a solution to this problem, and his work has led him to lithium batteries and the impact that they can have on trucking companies’ operations.


On this episode of The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast, join host and CEO of Dragonfly Energy Denis Phares and Dragonfly Energy’s in-house trucking specialist DJ Hasler in their discussion of the trucking industry and how lithium-ion batteries have the potential to change the industry forever. Learn more about how lithium-ion technology can cut down on spending and emissions, and lead to greater driver safety and comfortability by listening wherever you get your podcasts or watching the recording on YouTube. To learn more about what DJ Hasler does at Dragonfly Energy, click here or connect with DJ on LinkedIn.

Podcast Transcript:

Denis Phares  0:16 

Hi, I’m Denis Phares, welcome to The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. And we’re on the road again. We’re here in Austin, Texas, at the MOVE America Conference, a Mobility and Technology Conference. And we have, once again, a Dragonfly Energy salesperson with us, DJ Hassler. Welcome to the program, DJ.

DJ Hassler  0:36

Thank you.

Denis Phares  0:36

Well, it’s definitely pertinent that you’re here with us at the MOVE America Conference because, although we generally have been known for providing deep-cycle storage for the RV industry, there’s an opportunity in semis. So, let’s talk about that a little bit. First of all, semi-trucks. Why are we here in Austin, at the MOVE mobility conference, talking about semi-trucks?

DJ Hassler  1:03 

Well, there’s a lot of different players that come to the show, different industries. And we saw some different companies that are here and speaking, that are part of the over-the-road trucking, and large fleets, whether it’s food services, or beverages as well. So, we thought it made a lot of sense for us to come here and just kind of explore, and network with them, and see what their goals are for this conference and for their fleets.

Denis Phares  1:27 

Why are they here at Mobility and Technology Conference? Obviously, we’re talking electrification, so let’s just go right to it. What are they trying to do?

DJ Hassler  1:36 

Well, their goal is just to reduce emissions completely, reduce idling of trucks, reduce their overall impact on the environment, I think that’s important for a lot of them. And then, also just to reduce operating costs. There’s a lot of things they can do today that’ll really help their bottom line.

Denis Phares  1:52 

Okay. Before we get into that, can we talk about your background a little bit?

DJ Hassler  1:56 

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been in power conversion, and different electronics for about 15 years. Started with a company called Schneider Electric. So, we dealt with the infrastructure in IT.

Denis Phares  2:09 

I’ve heard of them.

DJ Jassler  2:10 

Yeah. Small little company, 160,000 employees.

Denis Phares  2:14

What were you doing at Schneider?

DJ Hassler  2:15

I was in sales for their IT division APC. So, it was UPSs so it was very similar; battery backup power, converting that to usable AC power for things. So, just kind of ended up in this industry how many of us do, I guess?

Denis Phares  2:31 

Okay. So, you do have background in batteries, lithium-ion batteries in particular.

DJ Hassler  2:38

Yes.

Denis Phares  2:39

So, how did that transition happen? Obviously, Schneider Electric does have a little bit of overlap there, but…?

DJ Hassler  2:45 

Yeah. So, I moved to a different division, we’re in the mobile space. So, RV, over-the-road truck, backup power solutions.

Denis Phares  2:54 

At Schneider Electric?

DJ Hassler  2:57 

Yes. And we converted DC power to AC power. So, inverter technology, and then also charging. Got a random phone call one time from a customer, they’re a lithium battery kind of niche manufacturer, and kind of sold us on what lithium technology can do. So, like 2014, 2015, and it sounded like, “No way, this is too good to be true” type of thing. But, obviously, we were going to look into this and make sure, so we started doing some research, started seeing different projects that are working on and we were like, “This might be the real deal. so we should probably make sure that our components can invert this power correctly, we can charge this power correctly.” And as we got more into it, more into it, decided, “Hey, I think I want to be more on the battery side of things than just the complementary components.”

Denis Phares  3:44 

So this is 2014, 2015.

DJ Hassler  3:46

Yep.

Denis Phares  3:49

So, what’s interesting is that, since then, the electrification of the whole transportation system has really taken hold. So, we’ve seen a lot of EV cars on the road now, but electric semis are kind of a big deal right now, especially with the Tesla. Nikola has been talking about it for a long time. I honestly don’t know where they are with the technology, but what do you think about battery-powered semi-trucks?

DJ Hassler  4:19 

Well, it’s interesting because there is just so many different variations of what a truck is, whether it’s a day cab, a true over-the-road, long haul type truck, there’s so many different variations. Lift gates are an example. And I think that everybody thinks like, oh, it’s just all going to EV, and it’s going to be the drive train. There’s so many things between here and there that we can do today that are kind of being overlooked. So, I do think that replacing generators, such as a diesel APU. A lot of those trucks now get 8 batteries, and it’s an electric APU, or, quote-unquote, electric APU. It’s more or less just trying to power an air conditioner. There’s things we can do today that would greatly reduce weight, increase the life cycle, and that stuff kind of gets overlooked. So, I think there’s a big opportunity there.

Denis Phares  5:05 

What about propulsion? What about the drive train itself? Under what conditions does it make sense for that to be electric?

DJ Hassler  5:10 

Given today’s infrastructure, I think that there’s certain states that have more strict regulations, and certain fleets that are kind of in these markets, whether it’s food service, or just the lift gates, where it makes a ton of sense. But a true over-the-road, long-haul truck are quite a ways away from that.

Denis Phares  5:30

Why?

DJ Hassler  5:32

Infrastructure is not quite there. And you…

Denis Phares  5:35 

Is it just the infrastructure? If the charging infrastructure were there, does it make sense, from a cost standpoint, to actually… For especially long haul trucking, does it make sense to be on battery?

DJ Hassler  5:50 

I think it’s a case-by-case scenario, just because, right now, there’s different funding available where it can make sense. But a lot of these guys, if you think about it, you’re pulling a 53-foot trailer that can haul up to 80,000 pounds. And this isn’t something like an RV where we’re using it four times a year, six times a year, this thing is on the road, traveling hundreds of miles every single day. Until you can quickly recharge that as you could a gas tank and get going again, it is not going to be the industry norm for quite a while.

Denis Phares  6:18 

Okay. But is it considered in the industry as sort of a holy grail, or is it just sort of a niche application?

DJ Hassler  6:28 

I think it depends on the…

Denis Phares  6:31 

You don’t know the answer?

DJ Hassler  6:32 

Well, it depends on the fleet that you would talk to. Some, I think, would look at it as a holy grail. Other ones, I think, don’t even really consider it. Some guys still just idle their truck for 24 hours a day and don’t even use an electric APU. So, they’re not even considering an electric drive train. I think it’s really an education thing, and then, also, we are still a little bit limited by if the ROI doesn’t make sense. You’re running a business, each one of these trucks needs to make money so you couldn’t go fleet-wide on something if it didn’t make financial sense.

Denis Phares  7:02 

So then, let’s move on from the drivetrain to what I think is a little bit more palatable, which is the electric APU. How do you actually get through without having to idle? How do batteries come into play, and what’s the ROI there?

DJ Hassler  7:20 

Yeah. So the way it works today, if you (?spec a normal?) with a sleeper cab, it comes with four lead acid batteries, four flooded batteries. That’s to crank your engine and run all of your DC electronics, your radio, your headlights, and things. If you get a battery-powered APU, so a 12-volt air conditioner factory installed on your truck, those front four lead acid flooded batteries are now AGM batteries. Then additional four AGM batteries, and eight batteries onboard to run your battery-powered air conditioning, your inverter, all your hotel loads, and the entire truck. The problem is that, most of the time, you can’t make it through the entire night. So, your truck still has to restart to recharge those batteries, so it’s kind of like a hybrid approach. And mainly, the constraints are just due to space and weight, every pound you take away for batteries is something that you could have been putting in your trailer to make money with. So, you’re kind of limited with space and weight, and lithium can change that because it’s about a fifth of the weight and lasts quite a bit longer, more runtime for your hotel loads to where you can get through the night.

Denis Phares  8:24 

Is idling a problem to get through the night if you don’t have suitable battery power?

DJ Hassler  8:29 

Absolutely. Idling is a massive problem. First of all, the driver is disturbed and woken up. So, it’s kind of a safety issue, a comfort issue, recruiting and retention issue. You need your drivers to be comfortable. There’s always a driver shortage. But also, every time you start, you’re generally running for an hour, hour and a half, two hours, that’s fuel that you’re using. And idling is much harsher on an engine than driving, so your service intervals, maintenance intervals increase as well.

Denis Phares  8:55 

So, it’s not just the cost of the diesel, necessarily, but the maintenance, and the wear and tear.

DJ Hassler  9:00 

Yep, exactly. Trucks go through a regen for their diesel engines, and idling greatly accelerates the interval when that happens, how quickly have to go through a regen.

Denis Phares  9:11 

There’s just so many great applications for lithium-ion batteries for storage, in general. And I think the focus on propulsion and transportation, while super exciting in the future as we talk about the entire transportation system being electrified, but, like you said, on the way to that, there’s just so much meat on the bone. Like, what can we change now to really make an impact immediately?

DJ Hassler  9:36 

Oh, exactly. I think that any fleet that’s considering going, especially if it’s a sleeper cab, thinks that that’s an option for their company, like, hey, we can make it from point A to point B and we can do this successfully using BEV, is what kind of the term is in long-haul trucking, they really need to look at this for the other part of their fleet. While they maybe still migrate to that, and that’s going to take a lot of time to go fleet-wide on something like that, there’s just a lot we can do as far as savings today to never have to auto-start your truck just for air conditioning, or watching TV, or microwaving dinner. A lot of trucks, literally, are on 24 hours a day just for driver comfort, which is just kind of crazy.

Denis Phares  10:17 

You made the comment that a lot of fleets are reluctant to transfer over to electric APU, let alone going to full electric EV. So, given that ROI, why is there reluctance there?

DJ Hassler  10:32 

I think that electric APUs, in general, EAPUs or battery-powered air conditioners have gotten a really bad rap.

Denis Phares  10:38 

A bad rap in the trucking industry.

DJ Hassler  10:41 

Yes, because they haven’t worked quite to the expectation of getting the 10 hours or through your night, as far as runtime. But the air conditioner is not the problem, it’s the power system that has been the problem. A lot of fleets either, like I said, still just idle their main engine to get heating and cooling, other ones will actually add a second engine, a small diesel generator that shares the fuel tank of the truck to get through the night. To me, it’s 2023 where we have trucks that can go 400, 500 miles on batteries, we don’t need to run a truck to run 12-volt air conditioning and the microwave for two minutes for your burrito, or whatever. But they’re limited by that battery capacity. So, really, it’s a power issue. So, there’s no reason to put a second small engine on your truck if you could store that power better. Lithium, as you know, has so little resistance that it takes all the power while you’re driving, and saves it for when you need it. So, adding lithium, which is light, onto your truck to store any excess energy while you’re driving, and then you can use it while you’re hotelling, just makes all the sense in the world to me.

Denis Phares  11:48 

Yeah. In the grand scheme of things, when you eliminate idling, that seems to be a significant source of just burning fuel and carbon.

DJ Hassler  11:56 

Fuel, maintenance interval, and the driver sleeps better, they’re happier. They’re likely to stay with your company if you spec your trucks with these types of things. I’ve had many drivers telling me, like, “Holy cow, I am more energized, I feel better.” It’s actually not the auto-start that wakes them up, they sleep through the auto-start. It’s when that truck shuts down. You made it through your 60 minutes, or your 90-minute recharge, the engine shuts off because the batteries are now off to whatever capacity, and it scares the heck out of them. And, “Did I just get hit? What just happened?” And that’s, for most drivers, an every night occurrence.

Denis Phares  12:31 

It makes sense to me. I’m not a truck driver, but it does seem like it would be a lot more comfortable to sleep in a quiet air-conditioned cab. And you talked about driver retention, and that there’s always a shortage of drivers, that’s what you said. So, what is the situation now? Is there an opportunity here for fleets to be able to transform the industry in a way that they get a lot more labor?

DJ Hassler  12:55 

Absolutely. Retention and recruitment are two common things.

Denis Phares  13:00

Is that a big issue right now?

DJ Hassler  13:02

A major issue. So, we have the ATA MCE conference, the management conference. And every year one of the main aspects of that conference is to go through the pain points for fleets. “What are your top things?” Whether it’s fuel prices, maintenance, these issues. And driver retention and driver recruitment has been in the top three for the last three or four years. Fuel prices are another one, and this solution alleviates both of those things.

Denis Phares  13:25 

Right now, if there is a driver shortage… Is there a driver shortage right now?

DJ Hassler  13:30 

Right this second might be the first time in three years where there’s not because it’s a bit of a freight recession.

Denis Phares  13:36 

Okay. I see. But when there was, what was the ramifications? Was it increased cost to consumers, was it delays in delivery of products?

DJ Hassler  13:47 

I think, mainly, it’s hard to maintain that loyalty with that driver. They can go get a signing bonus. And this next one goes to this company. They kind of bounce around. Unless you can provide something that’s different than what everybody else is doing and spec your trucks to a certain way to where they’re comfortable and want to stay, there isn’t as much loyalty and they bounce around a bit.

Denis Phares  14:11 

No, that makes sense. That makes sense. But is there a more sort of consumer effect?

DJ Hassler  14:21 

I think there can be, you’re saying on the drivers?

Denis Phares  14:23 

On the consumers that expect the products to arrive. If there’s a shortage of drivers, is there a shortage of delivery? Is there an increase of cost for the end…?

DJ Hassler  14:35 

Oh, absolutely. If you’re the company who’s paying for it, and it’s supply and demand like anything else. So, your rates go up because we have to be the one who wants our stuff on time. There’s only X amount of drivers or fleets willing to pick this up. We’re going to pay the premium amount of money to get our delivery on time. So, totally.

Denis Phares  14:52 

So, I guess that’s my point. Where you’re saying this is not just an issue of environmental. This is not just environmental issue, this is an economic issue.

DJ Hassler  15:06  

Economic issue, safety issue, if you think about the CO2. If you’re in the Midwest, and it’s the summertime, and you’re on vacation, you go by Loves, or a Pilot-J, or a rest stop. There are trucks parked along the whole entrance ramps to that rest stop, the entire rest stop and it’s deafening. There are engines blasting everywhere and it’s to keep the driver comfortable while he’s sleeping. And that does not need to happen. To me, if the ROI was even close, you would think, “Hey, we’re not going to waste…” Some of these fleets are 8 to 10,000 trucks in their fleet, over-the-road sleeper cabs. If you even were coming close to breaking even on not running your trucks all night, I would think you would do it. Some of those guys, it’s 40 to $50 million of diesel fuel every single year. And that also makes your driver happier, more comfortable, safer. To me, it’s a no-brainer.

Denis Phares  16:03  

Yeah. Do you like doing this?

DJ Hassler  16:05 

Yes. You could tell I’m a little bit passionate about it.

(Laughter)

Denis Phares  16:11 

So, starting from Schneider Electric, you’ve been in the storage area for quite some time now, are you excited about the way things are progressing?

DJ Hassler  16:22 

Very excited. I think that it’s funny, like, whether the first time we met, or anybody, you kind of explain the industry, what you’re doing, and why the technology can change it, and they’re like, “Oh, that’s easy, that’s a no brainer.” And I thought so too. Here we are two or three years later, we finally figured out a lot of the integration pieces, and have talked to the right people in the right fleets, and the amount of progress we’ve made. And it’s not even with a specific type of customer, it’s kind of across the board. The amount of pilots going on, and success that they’re seeing is exciting. And anytime you can sit down with somebody at their conference table, on Microsoft Teams meeting, and just like anybody, they’re very busy, they get a lot of emails, they get a lot of people coming to them, and they say, “Oh, that one’s kind of interesting, let me sit down and let’s discuss this,” And it alleviates an actual pain point for them, like, their battery replacements, like, “Oh my gosh, you have no idea how many pallets of batteries we go through every year. If this does even half of what you say it does, I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but that would be amazing,” or things like that. And it’s so interesting because each fleet is kind of different. Some guys are like, “I don’t even care if it reduces, I’m sick of swapping batteries,” or, “I don’t care about the batteries, we don’t want to idle our trucks because of the maintenance issues, the engine issues. We’re replacing components that we don’t want to replace. If our trucks didn’t run all night, we wouldn’t have to replace those.” So, it’s super fun and unique to see just how each and every fleet kind of operates different and has different pain points. But anytime you can sit there and just kind of have that personal relationship, and it makes their life easier, it’s enjoyable to do.

Denis Phares  18:00  

Satisfying.

DJ Hassler  18:01

Yeah, totally.

Denis Phares  18:

Are you excited to be at the MOVE Conference?

DJ Hassler  18:04 

I am. It’s definitely more of a startup feel. The whole industry is excited. And so, anytime when you have that kind of startup mentality, and new innovation, there’s a lot of positive energy and a fun environment. Everybody’s here because they want to be here. So, it’s fun.

Denis Phares  18:21 

Yeah, it’s great. I’m excited too. Well, thank you so much for joining the podcast.

DJ Hassler  18:26

Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Denis Phares  18:28

I’d like to thank DJ Hassler for joining us on The Li-MITLESS ENERGY Podcast. Please join us on any of your favorite podcast platforms.

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