If you’re a regular reader of the Trucker Tools blog, you know we love talking to interesting people from across the trucking industry. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Chace Barber, co-founder and CEO of British Columbia-based Edison Motors. Chace is an owner-operator turned entrepreneur who saw an opportunity to offer a new fuel-saving solution to the industry. In our conversation with Chace, he shared how he first got into trucking, where the idea for a diesel hybrid engine came from and what’s next for his company, Edison Motors. Chace also shared some exciting news about his company’s electric truck prototype.
Trucking: A Family Tradition
Chace comes from a family of truck drivers. He has fond memories of riding around in his grandpa’s big rig when he was a young man growing up in British Columbia. When we spoke with Chace, he recalled being asked in kindergarten what he wanted to do as a grown-up. He wrote down “truck driver” without hesitation. Chace wasn’t able to get his CDL in Canada until he turned 19, so he joined the Canadian Army Reserves when he was 16 and served in the reserves until he got his CDL in 2005. After a year in trucking, Chace decided to become an owner operator. Shortly thereafter, the 2008 financial collapse threw a wrench in his plans.
“The 2008 financial collapse destroyed me when I was just starting out,” Chace said. “Luckily I had bought an old truck that was by that time paid off. When things took a nosedive and rates started crashing, I got rid of the truck and used the money I’d saved and went to university. I love trucking and thought it was an opportunity for me to learn more about trucking. At university, I had a choice: do I learn about the mechanics of trucking or about the economics of trucking? I decided to learn the economics of trucking and it’s made a big difference in my career.”
According to Chace, he wasn’t a great student in high school, but excelled at college because he was studying a subject he was passionate about. During his final semester, Chace met his current business partner, Eric Little, and together they decided to launch a new trucking business. They pooled what was left of their student loans and money they’d saved — a total of about $8,000 — and bought their first truck, a 1969 Kenworth that had been sitting in a field for 10 years. Together, they restored the truck and after graduation officially started their trucking company.
“We were successful, so we bought another truck,” Chace shared. “Then we got another truck. Then we got another truck. We grew a business starting with that old 1960s truck. We started out with logging because we had a log trailer and then we moved up to the Yukon where we had a contract with a mine and we were hauling ore and parts. The mine eventually closed down and we moved to Grand Prairie, B.C., where we worked on the oil patch moving service rigs around before we came back to logging. I definitely prefer logging. It’s way more exciting. It’s the only job where you can be doing 10 mph and be absolutely terrified.”
Edison Motors and Retrofit Diesel Hybrid Engines
Edison Motors is the trucking company that Chace and Eric launched and built together. In addition to offering logging trucking services, the company today also offers solar equipment manufacturing, production and installation for off-grid projects, as well as retrofit diesel hybrid engines for heavy haul trucks that are moving large pieces of equipment.
“We really got into doing solar while we were over in Alberta,” Chace shared. “We were hauling generator systems and a lot of CAT equipment. We’ve always had a big interest in solar and from an economic perspective, solar makes a lot of sense. We were already installing generators and we wanted to combine that with solar. We pitched our idea to Finning, Caterpillar, B.C. Hydro and a few different places. We got our first real big break with this tiny little First Nation Indian reserve way up north by the B.C./Yukon border. They were running 100 percent on diesel power with a 95 kilowatt-hour generator. That’s relatively big and they had a huge peak load demand. We took that 95 kilowatt-hour generator and downsized it to 35, which is already a huge savings in fuel. We put in a large battery bank and a huge solar array. They saved $85,000 in fuel in the first year and that’s when fuel was half the price of what it is right now.”
The First Nation solar generator project planted the seed of an idea in Chace’s mind. Chace thought that they could take the success they had with the project and apply it to big rigs. Trucks need a lot of power to start and break initial inertia, but once they’re moving at highway speed it doesn’t take too much power to maintain momentum. The idea was to downsize the diesel motor and install a large battery to provide peak load demand for the truck. Chace thought that once the truck was moving, the generator could maintain speed and recharge the battery at the same time.
“Realistically, a truck isn’t too different from a First Nation reservation,” Chace explained. “I know it sounds crazy that a truck is about the same as a community that’s off-grid, but both function as large diesel power plants to power something that’s not connected to anything else. So we started thinking about it that way — that the truck can be its own little micro grid that we can make more efficient by using batteries mixed in with a C9 diesel generator instead of a C15 generator. That means you go from a 15-liter engine down to a nine-liter engine. You’re always running that generator at peak efficiency because you’re always at the ideal RPM band in your engine. It puts you exactly where you need to be to get the best fuel mileage.”
For now, Chace and the rest of the team at Edison Motors are concentrating on retrofitting trucks for heavy haul and vocational use, as doing so doesn’t require a massive manufacturing facility. Current users of the company’s diesel hybrid engines include oil patch service rigs, fire truck manufacturers, hydro-vac companies and power utilities. Edison Motors also has a contract with Caterpillar for off-grid solar setups.
The Truckers Brigade in Hope, B.C., Sept. 9-11
This Sept. 9 through Sept. 11, Chace and the Edison Motors team will be holding the Truckers Brigade in Hope, B.C. to raise money for the B.C. Children’s Hospital and to introduce folks to Carl, Edison Motors’ electric truck prototype. The Truckers Brigade will include a truck show, food trucks, midway fair rides, a demolition derby, 4×4 racing, beer gardens, live music and more. Net proceeds will go to the B.C. Children’s Hospital.To learn more about Chace Barber and Edison Motors, visit https://www.edisonmotors.ca/.