E-mobility is on everyone’s lips and is supposedly the solution for the change in traffic policy. Cars, however, always come to mind first. There is a lot going on however in the truck area too – not only in terms of electric power, as pressure from climate policy is increasing.

Even though trucks with alternative drive systems do not yet play a role among tanker manufacturers, this could soon change, for pressure from climate policy is increasing. After the EU adopted stricter fleet-wide CO2 targets for new cars, the stipulations for heavy goods vehicles followed. According to the latter, the average CO2 emissions of trucks and buses are to be reduced by 30 percent from now until 2030 compared to the reference year 2019. A 15 per cent reduction is set as an interim target for 2025.

This cannot be achieved however in long-distance heavy goods transport simply by electrification.

In the “Innovation Programme Logistics 2030”, Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) therefore announced early in September his ministry’s wish to support low-cost processes for producing bio- and electricity-based renewable fuels in Europe and throughout the world, as well as accelerate technology-neutral development, trial and market introduction of vehicles with alternative drive systems, and provision of the corresponding infrastructure.

In this country, gas currently seems a serious competitor as an alternative fuel for trucks, as an assessment by the Federal Ministry of Transport of the “support programme for energy-efficient and/or low-CO2 heavy goods vehicles” shows.

Roughly a year after introduction of the programme, more than 1330 vehicles among the total of 1390 trucks subsidised up to that point were equipped with a gas-powered engine. Trucks powered by liquid natural gas (LNG) were in particularly high demand. An application for funding was made a total of 994 times for the vehicles, each subsidised with 12,000 Euros. In addition, 339 subsidies were granted for commercial vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), subsidised with 8000 Euros respectively. There was very little demand on the other hand for electric vehicles, with 57 applications, even though their level of subsidisation was the highest at 40,000 Euros respectively, as the industry initiative “Zukunft Erdgas” points out.

Incidentally: the support programme was so successful that the scope of the funding guideline was even increased from 10 million to 20 million Euros this year.

The switch to low-emission gas vehicles is particularly attractive owing to the toll exemption initially applicable until the end of 2020.

Progress is also being made however with electric vehicles. On the A5 motorway in Hesse, five kilometres of overhead power masts have been erected in both directions respectively for a pilot project. Hybrid trucks can recharge here. It is also intended to create so-called “eHighways” on the A1.

Mercedes is testing, among others, the 25-ton battery-powered eActros, which is scheduled to enter serial production in 2021. Owing to the range of around 168 kilometres, it is however designed rather for shorter distances in delivery transport. The heavy batteries have imposed objective limitations up to now.

Another option is the hydrogen fuel cell. Hyundai is in the lead here and has announced that it will be increasing the previously scheduled number of 1,000 heavy-duty fuel cell trucks for Switzerland to 1,600 and deliver the latter by 2025.

The option of using CO2-neutral synthetic fuels – so-called e-fuels – in existing internal combustion engines has been hampered up to now by the lack of availability of such fuels. Once this has been achieved, the calculations will need to be completely revised. Although e-fuels cost more than conventional diesel, they can be stored and transported anywhere in the world without any losses and do not require any new infrastructure – neither new drive concepts, nor overhead lines or charging stations, nor service stations for hydrogen and electricity.

The prospects remain exciting.

Picture: Hybrid-Elektro-Lastkraftwagen, der in Ladestation aufgeladen wird// © Chesky/shutterstock.com