No matter where in the world your fleet operates, you can’t afford to ignore the energy transition.

Most countries now have ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The US aims to cut its emissions by 26% before 20251, India by 33% before 20302, and the European Union by 60% by 2050.3

Because transport is a major contributor to carbon dioxide, fleet managers and drivers everywhere must find ways to reduce their use of fossil fuels – and through that cut their greenhouse emissions.

What are your best options?

mount storm wind turbine

BATTERY ELECTRIC OR FUEL CELL ELECTRIC VEHICLES

The positives

From a hauler’s perspective, electric vehicles (EVs) or fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) are probably the greenest of the three fuel types discussed in this article. Their emissions are as close as possible to zero because the ‘fuel’ is based on renewable electricity.

Electric engines also have one of the highest well-to-wheel (WtW) efficiency ratings of any fuel type. It’s in the range of 60%, compared to around 35% to 40% for diesel, depending on use cycle and vehicle size4. WtW indicates how much of the energy in the vehicle’s fuel is delivered to its wheels.

The challenges

The range of EV commercial vehicles depends on the battery size. For some bigger vehicles, batteries can be as heavy as up to 10 tons (depending on the range required) – a significant portion of the potential payload.

In many places, the charging infrastructure commercial fleets need simply doesn’t exist. These two factors limit both the load and range of commercial EVs.

Investing in EVs

Battery weight concerns shouldn’t deter individuals or companies from investing in electric vehicles now. For short-haul journeys – for instance, the kind made by municipal service fleets – EVs are already the most energy-efficient option.

As battery technology matures, the available range will only get better. And most major markets have committed to switching their power generation to renewables in the near future.

But there is a catch when it comes to battery electric: unless power companies switch from fossil fuels to renewables, the transport sector will simply be outsourcing its emissions to the electricity producers.

hydrogen fueling station

FUEL CELLS

The positives

For long-haul operations especially, fuel cells powered by hydrogen are very attractive. They deliver the best range, fast refuelling and low drivetrain weight – and are almost emission-free (if the hydrogen required is from renewable electricity).

The fuel cell works by converting the chemical energy in hydrogen, combined with oxygen, into electricity. The only waste product in this process is harmless water vapor.

To get the best environmental impact from this switch, and to prepare yourselves commercially for the future, fleets should consider converting to EVs or FCEVs when you feasibly can. Be sure to consider practicalities, such as:

  • Use cases
  • The range of current EVs
  • The availability of charging infrastructure
  • Cost

The challenges

Fuel cell vehicles are not yet readily available, although several manufacturers have announced plans and displayed prototypes. The range and availability of charging infrastructure are similar challenges to those faced by traditional EVs.

plant

BIOFUELS AND E-FUELS

The positives

Today, plant-based biofuels are mainly used as supplements, added to conventional fuels to help fleets hit their sustainability targets.

In America, the biodiesel content required by law in fuel varies from state to state. In Minnesota, for example, diesel fuel sold between April and September must contain at least 20% biodiesel (B20), reduced to 5% (B5) during the rest of the year.

In Europe, by contrast, the legal maximum is fixed at 7%. These limits are intended to prevent damage to engines but also to stop competition from fuel producers driving up food prices.

The challenges

Both the capd and the limited amount of raw material – including food crops – mean that today’s biofuels will never be more than one of a number of ways to marginally reduce a fleet’s greenhouse-gas emissions. However, this may change.

Fuel companies are developing the second generation of biofuels. Produced from non-food crops and other sources, these range from hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), through advanced ethanol to advanced biodiesel type of fuels.

oil water

GREEN FUEL

The positives

These fuels can be produced in far greater quantities than current biofuels and don’t have the same negative environmental impact. If we can perfect their production processes, these second-generation biofuels promise abundant green fuel which can be distributed using the existing infrastructures and be used in today’s vehicles.

solar panels

E-FUELS

The positives

E-fuels are another possible new energy source. With renewably-generated electricity, the fuel manufacturer uses electrolysis to produce hydrogen.

Next, it takes carbon dioxide filtered from the air and combines it with the hydrogen to generate a syn-gas – the feed for a reaction to produce ‘synthetic’ hydrocarbons, similar to those found in standard fuels.

The result is a carbon-neutral liquid fuel with a similar energy content – and consequently a similar range – to today’s fuels. It could be used in existing vehicles and distributed through the infrastructure we have today.

However, e-fuels are still in early development. Current experimental e-fuels have a well-to-wheel energy efficiency of only around 12% 4,5. This must improve before the fuels can be commercially viable.

solar panels

CNG AND LNG

The positives

Today, if you want to cut your emissions, the easiest gas-based fuel available is probably compressed natural gas (CNG). It’s readily available, produces less greenhouse gases than most alternatives, and retooling your vehicles to use it is relatively inexpensive.

In the longer term, liquid natural gas (LNG) is likely to be both more cost effective and greener in many use cases. LNG has a very high energy-density. This lets you store more energy in your tank, which helps increase range.

It also has the benefit of being highly efficient at delivering power to the wheels. An LNG engine can deliver 40% of overall efficiency5 compared to the same range as diesel.

The challenges

Yet there are complications. For example, LNG must be kept at 161°C below zero, both storage and refuelling are more difficult than with other fuels. Tanks for LNG must be double-walled, insulated, and meet rigorous safety standards in certain countries.

If LNG is to become a viable part of the heavy-duty fleet fuel mix, fleet and fuel providers will have to invest heavily in infrastructure. They will also have to work together to train drivers how to handle LNG safely.

Fleets have several options from which to choose should they seek to modernize their fleet and reduce their carbon footprint. However, each choice presents advantages and challenges, which can vary depending on where a fleet operates, the local infrastructure, as well as the needs, goals and resources of the fleet.

Fleets will need to evaluate and weigh these advantages and disadvantages before making a decision. Many fleets choose to take small steps, trialing new technologies to better understand the results, maintenance needs, etc. before investing heavily in powertrain technology.

1 Milman, O. (2019). US emissions set to miss 2025 target in Paris climate change deal, research finds. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/26/us-climate-change-emissions-miss-2025-target-research [Accessed 17 July 2019].

2 The Economic Times. (2019). India pledges up to 33% cut in emissions by 2030. [online] Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-pledges-up-to-33-cut-in-emissions-by-2030/articleshow/49200647.cms [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

3 Climate Action – European Commission. (2019). Transport - Climate Action - European Commission. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/paris_protocol/transport_en [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

4 The Road to Sustainable Fuels For Zero Emissions Mobility, Dr. Wolfgang Warnecke et al., Royal Dutch Shell, 39th International Vienna Motor Symposium, 2018

5 “The Power-to-Liquid (PTL) pathways assume renewable power generation in a favourable region, with low temperature electrolysis (LTE) hydrogen production, CO2 capture from air (DAC) and fuel synthesis. The PTL fuel production (incl. hydrogen production, CO2 capture and chemical synthesis) achieves an overall efficiency of 35 %. Transport and distribution drops the chain efficiency to this point only marginally to 34 %. Losses for filling the tank are assumed to be negligible. A diesel internal combustion engine is assumed to have a 36 % efficiency leading to a WtW efficiency of 12 % for this PTL pathway. For a gasoline engine with an efficiency assumed of 30 % the overall pathway’s efficiency would be just 10%.”

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