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The Future of Clean Tech Trucking is in Escondido
Originally posted January 2022
Escondido is making a name for itself as a leader in the clean tech industry, and one of the businesses on the forefront of clean tech is RockeTruck.
RockeTruck is creating zero emission electric power freight trucks that can operate with a range up to 400 miles while carrying the standard maximum capacity 80,000-pound load. President and CEO Michael Simon, who was the principal founder and first CEO of Escondido-based TransPower, a company that developed motor-battery propulsion technologies for big rigs, is now focused on building trucks from the ground up.
RockeTruck President and CEO Michael Simon with the Shell "StarShip" truck, a diesel prototype whose advanced aerodynamic design RockeTruck wants to adapt to battery-electric and fuel cell trucks. Photo credit Shell Lubricants.
“We’re trying to consolidate and modernize the packaging of all these components, the batteries, the motors, the controls, in ways that can make it faster, cheaper and easier to put in a truck or bus,” Simon said. “The best way to do that is to start from scratch and build the entire bus or the entire truck around it.”
The PowerBox(™) design uses compact lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen fuel cells to power vehicles.
The trucks will be designed with a PowerBox(™), a multi-use building block system that features compact multiple fuel cell and battery configurations. The PowerBox can also be used in mobile fuel cell generators — portable power plants that generate electricity using a combination of hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. By mixing fuel cells and batteries, RockeTruck is creating an energy conversion device that keeps the vehicle or mobile generator operating longer than with an electric battery alone and without the polluting excess of diesel-powered vehicles or generators.
“Our goal is to mix and match fuel cells and batteries in different ways,” Simon said. The PowerBox(™) version, shown in the image above, has two fuel cells and a total of eight different battery modules.
The body of the vehicles is being manufactured by RockeTruck.
“We are planning to use 3D printing to manufacture as many of our parts as we can,” Simon said. This includes the body, the module that holds the batteries, and the chassis.
A sleek aerodynamic design will accompany its innovative technologies. Designer Robert Sliwa, who originally designed a similar prototype for Shell Lubricant Solutions called the Shell Starship has created a sleek-looking vehicle that not only gives the trucks a futuristic appeal, but cuts energy consumption usage by about one-third, adding approximately 120 miles of range to the vehicles.
Simon believes these new trucks, which are using similar body design to Shell’s Starship truck, will be available by mid-2025. He also plans to develop other vehicles from the ground up including buses and various sized trucks. Commercial prices for the Starship-style trucks and other vehicles have not yet been determined, but are expected to be competitive with the costs of similar vehicles on the market, which can range from $100,000 for conventional diesel trucks to more than $500,000 for advanced technology vehicles. Like traditional combustible engine trucks which have an expected lifespan of 10 years, the battery life of the Starship-style truck is also up to 10 years. However, the batteries are easily replaceable and the trucks themselves can reach a working lifespan of 30 years and 1 million miles.
In addition to the vehicles, the stacked battery design is also being developed as portable generators that can power these trucks or provide power to large buildings, several small houses, or a hospital.
“The fuel cell battery box can be transported to any location and uses an electric generator as well,” Simon said. “So we are going after both markets.”
RockeTruck is one of two recipients out of 15 that has been awarded a $3 million grant by the California Energy Commission to develop and build the mobile fuel cell generators (MFCGs). In collaboration with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the MFCGs will be test operated in 2023-24.
RockeTruck’s team consists of a core team of senior personnel who average 50 years of professional experience in engineering and the clean tech industry. Additionally, nearly a dozen consultants and advisors are working with the team to continue the research and development of these new trucks and generators.
For the City of Escondido, Simon and his team are a welcome enterprise. “We’re proud to be a home to serial entrepreneurs like Mike, who are changing the world with new technologies,” said Jennifer Schoeneck, Deputy Director of Economic Development. “He and his team are passionate about being in Escondido, and we are happy to have them here and help support their success.”
As with TransPower, Simon continues to grow RockeTruck in Escondido because he feels the City supports a business-friendly atmosphere with accessible City officials who understand business needs and who continue to support local companies.
“The City is particularly interested in attracting and retaining clean tech companies like RockeTruck, so it’s a great fit,” Simon said. “Escondido is also favorably located, with convenient freeway access and a major transit center, along with many quality of life benefits such as the Westfield mall, Zoo Safari Park, local breweries, Grand Avenue restaurants, the Arts Center, and so much more.”