About a week ago, Elon Musk hosted an event where he delivered the first of his Tesla semis to Pepsi. About four years earlier, he hosted an event where he introduced the semi along with a lot of inflated claims such as that convoys of them (each with their 18 squishy tires) are going to beat rail. He started taking deposits with a promise of delivery in two years. There’s tons of YouTube video channels (both pro and con) covering the semi. On the pro side, one that I watch quite a bit is Now You Know hosted by a couple of hard core Tesla fanboys named Jesse and Zac. It’s very well produced and has 324 thousand subscribers. They have extensive coverage of all happenings in the world of electric vehicles and they do lots of interviews with green energy type entrepreneurs. They usually start their show with personal endorsements of granola cruncher type product sponsors. They have lots of audience participation features such as pictures and videos of customized Teslas and new charging stations. They are almost cult like in their adoration of Elon Musk and even regularly parse his latest tweets. They’ve put down their deposit and are on the list to get a Tesla semi. They are understandably stoked.
On the con side, my favorite Tesla critic is Thunderf00t (aka Phil Mason). He’s a chemist who started doing YouTube videos probably about two decades ago to debunk creationists. He’s become very prolific making tons of videos on various science and technology topics acquiring a million subscribers along the way. He’s very good at debunking various energy schemes and scams in which he titles his videos “<scheme or scam> Busted”. He gained some note in the atheist/skeptic movement by siding with Richard Dawkins in a scuffle with a blogger named Rebecca Watson (aka SkepChick) which has likely caused the permanent rift in the skeptic community. Mason describes it well in an interview with Dave Rubin.
Mason is at the other end of the extreme from Jesse and Zac with an obsessive hatred for anything to do with Elon Musk. The vast majority of his more recent videos are about Musk. In this video he makes a calculation starting at about six and a half minutes in where he concludes that the Tesla semi will only be able to haul about five tons of cargo while a regular diesel semi will haul twenty. He does this by comparing the energy densities of lithium ion batteries and diesel fuel. I found this to be quite a revelation so I took a screen shot from the video and have been doing a lot of tweeting and commenting about it. I even noted it in my last post.
Well, I’ve been eagerly awaiting Thunderf00t’s new video on Tesla’s delivery of its first semi to Pepsi. Thunderf00t made a couple of early tweets:
He’s finally released his “Busted” video:
At about nine minutes in, he makes a load calculation from a widely circulated video of a Tesla semi passing another semi going up a 6% grade with a load of concrete barriers. He finds a web page with some similar barriers, gets the weight specification, counts everything up and calculates that the Tesla semi is carrying about five to six tons. There’s only one problem. Thunderf00t has looked up the wrong barrier and got the wrong result! And he didn’t just get it a little wrong. He picked a barrier that weighed half a ton, while a bunch of commenters and twitterers found the correct barriers which weigh in at two tons each. The load adds up to about twenty tons just like a conventional diesel semi! This of course left me a bit confused, but I’m pretty confident that I’ve figured out how Thunderf00t made his error. I actually found a clue at 21 minutes in, screen capped it, then tweeted my explanation.
He notes that a diesel semi can easily be loaded with enough fuel to go 2000 miles, while a Tesla semi with its battery at the limit, can only go 500 miles, which gives a coincidental factor of four. Does this mean the Tesla’s battery does not cause any payload penalty? Tesla has not released the figures for the weight of its semi or its battery. I think this made Thunderf00t a bit overconfident in his calculations. Now if Tesla would’ve given its semi something like a 1500 mile range, then it probably would have only a five ton payload (and cost about three times as much among other problems).
Now someone like Thunderf00t is obviously going to have a lot of online enemies so besides the glee of catching him with something this wrong, there are also going to be claims of dishonesty. They gave me an example where he had once made a claim that the space shuttle could stay docked to the space station as long as the Dragon capsule. Apparently the shuttle used fuel cells which only last a few weeks, while the Dragon has solar cells and batteries that can go on indefinitely. The arguments get into a bunch of hair splitting over whether the shuttle could be retrofitted with batteries and such. I did look it up and Thunderf00t did come back and defend his position, although some might argue that he was trying to weasel his way out. Thunderf00t’s factor of four payload miscalculation is more like scalping than hairsplitting, and I expect he will admit his mistake, although he hasn’t commented on it yet.
So does the Tesla semi’s battery cut into it’s load capacity? Thunderf00t has tweeted a video by a very articulate Australian automotive YouTuber who estimates it will cut the load by 12 to 20 percent. This guy’s pretty good and I’m having trouble filling this paragraph so I’ll post his previous Tesla semi video:
While Thunderf00t’s estimate of the payload penalty was wildly off, there’s still a significant penalty. Of course, payload and range are not the only potential problems for an electric semi. Early in his busted video, Thunderf00t shows a model S battery fire and how hard it is to put out. What kind of danger will this pose for a battery that’s ten times as large?. There’s also the question of how the electric infrastructure will handle new point demands for megawatts of recharging power. I also suspect there will be another roadblock in the form of mineral commodities inflation.
Despite all this, there are some advantages to electric trucks. They don’t emit air pollution where they are driven. Electric motors undoubtedly can deliver more power or torque than diesel engines. Regenerative braking saves energy and wear on brakes. I sometimes wonder whether there’s some sort of hybrid solution for trucking. Well, I’ll end with the two fanboys who seem to have found what looks to me like what might be an actual solution: