How far away is the future of zero-emission trucking? - Girteka - Responsible Logistics

How far away is the future of zero-emission trucking?


As Europe prepares to move towards net zero carbon emissions, road freight logistics companies are forced to review their future fleet options and turn to alternative fuels in the meantime. Truck manufacturers have an increasing number of electric and hydrogen powered trucks either ready for the market or already on the roads, but widespread adoption is a long way off. So, are all industry players ready to transfer to green technologies? And can they keep up with the European Union’s Green Deal?

Great strides have been made in the decarbonization of transportation due to the introduction of low and zero-emission cars, buses, and various forms of micro mobility. However, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA) analysis, the efficiency gains that have been achieved in vehicles and transport operations have been outpaced by the growing demand for freight transport, ultimately leading to continued growth in emissions.

Road freight now accounts for 53% of CO2 emissions within global trade-related transport, writes a McKinsey & Co. report. In Europe, road freight currently generates 15% of CO2 emissions. About 70% of those emissions come from medium and heavy-duty trucks. Meaning that the decarbonization of transportation will require a greater focus on trucks, an area in which progress has been much slower than other modes of transport.

What are the solutions?

The EU Member States have committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. The European Green Deal, approved in 2020, seeks a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport compared with 1990 level. It envisions a 15% decrease in CO2 emissions from new heavy-duty vehicles starting 2025, and a 30% decrease in those emissions from 2030. At the same time, a whole control mechanism is being prepared for stricter monitoring and penalties for exceeding limitations. With a limited amount of time, there is also a limited number of measures to solving the emission problem in trucking, placing transport providers in dire straits.

One of the ways of reducing emissions that transport operators are currently mostly concentrated on is improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, starting with alternative fuels. For moderate carbon savings, there are options such as liquid natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG), meanwhile, synthetic fuels and newer biofuels, such as bio-LNG, bio-CNG and hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) biodiesel, are becoming viable lower-carbon options. For instance, HVO fuel can reduce CO2 emissions up to 90%. Also, the advantage of HVO is that you can transfer to it immediately – no need to replace filters or catalysts on the vehicle. As these alternative fuels are used in internal combustion engines, they can play a role as a bridging solution.

Meanwhile, in November, the European Commission (EC) proposed new Euro 7 standards rules which is a new and reportedly much stricter ecological standard, applied for all road transport, including trucks. The proposal tackles emissions from tailpipes as well as from brakes and tyres. In the official project, it is stated that having adopted the Euro 7 standards, any new vehicle that appears in the market should produce zero-emissions its entire life cycle. The Euro 7 should come into force in 2025, which leaves only two years for the entire market to prepare for the changes, something that industry leaders have raised concerns about.

The widely agreed notion, therefore, is the need to move away from the internal combustion engine. Not to mention that the EU will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035, although trucks are not (yet) included in the regulation. The two main technologies that are currently competing for the future market are battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen-fuel-cell electric vehicles. Both feature electric powertrains with batteries and electric motors, but they use different energy-storage systems.

Battery-electric vehicles are already widely available, while fuel-cell vehicles are still lacking in availability, with the added disadvantage of a high current price of hydrogen. However, the size and weight of the electric battery is more disadvantageous for long range vehicles. There is also the drawback of longer recharging times. Meanwhile, high energy density of hydrogen is easier to design for long distances and the refuelling can be done faster.

What to look out for?

All manufacturers have either already started or are about to start series production of their new zero-emission trucks; first battery electric and hydrogen powered soon thereafter. Dozens of different battery-electric truck models are already available today in various configurations that can be adapted to individual specifications by such manufacturers as Scania, DAF, Ford, Quantron, Daimler, MAN, Designwerk, and Nikola among others.

Recently, Tesla delivered the long-awaited first model of its electric truck, called the Semi, to its customer PepsiCo, announced CEO Elon Musk. The electric truck’s concept was first presented back in 2017 with the first delivery promised for 2019 but has only been rolled out this year.  Tesla estimates that while combination trucks are just 1% of the US vehicle fleet, they account for 20% of vehicle emissions. The battery-powered, long-haul semi-truck is said to reduce road emissions while also outperforming existing diesel models on power (approximately three times the power of a typical diesel semi-truck, Tesla claims) and safety.

The e-truck is said to have the efficiency to go 500 miles (805 km) on a single charge and full load (at 82k lbs Gross Combination Weight) with less than 2kWh per mile of energy consumption. It has three independent electric motors, one of which drives the truck most of the time while the other two are used mostly for acceleration and hard pulling. The Semi can accelerate from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 20 seconds, fully loaded, and maintain highway-level speeds even up steep grades, Tesla states. The Semi is to feature the same fast-charging technology used in Tesla’s upcoming Cybertruck pickup – a “megawatt” fast charger, a liquid-cooled cable capable of one-megawatt charging.

Tesla has designed the Semi around the driver, with a central seating position, room to stand up and ample storage space. The e-truck comes standard with active safety features that pair with advanced motor and brake controls to deliver traction and stability in all conditions, Tesla states. According to Musk, the company is aiming to produce 50,000 Semis for North America in 2024. PepsiCo has ordered 100 of the vehicles, UPS ordered 125 and Walmart Canada – 130. Tesla has not shared any details about when the rest of the orders would be fulfilled.

When looking at the European manufacturers, one of the main competitors for Tesla is Daimler Trucks. During the IAA Transportation exhibition in September, German manufacturer Daimler unveiled its new eActros Long Haul truck, which features a 600 kWh battery that powers the truck’s rear-wheels via two motors on the rear axle. The battery delivers 600 kW peak power and 400 kW continuous power. The eActors is available in two versions with three or four batteries. The batteries are said to have the lifespan of 1.2 million kilometres. The eActros also features fast charging – with a charging capacity of 160 kW, in just 45 minutes the battery can be charged from 20% to 80%, thus allowing charging to take place during mandatory 45-minute breaks. The eActros is said to be able to travel distances of up to 300 km and 400 km.

Meanwhile, another major competitor, Swedish Volvo Trucks says it now has “six electric truck models in series production globally”. The production of three heavy duty electric truck models – long-haul, medium-haul and construction applications – is underway as per company’s statement in September. The range for the electric FM is up to 380 km, for the FMX it is up to 320 km and for the FH the range is up to 300 km. Volvo Trucks says the start of series production in its heavy-duty truck range will give it the broadest electric truck line up in the industry. The company has reportedly already sold 1,000 units of its heavy electric trucks and says that by year 2030 it expects that electric trucks will account for at least 50% of all its truck sales.

Earlier this year, Volvo Trucks also said it had begun to test vehicles that use “fuel cells powered by hydrogen”, with their range possibly extending to as much as 1,000 km. The company said that refuelling of the vehicles would take under 15 minutes. Like Volvo Trucks, Daimler Trucks if focusing on both battery-electric and hydrogen vehicles. In March 2021, Daimler Truck and the Volvo Group set up cellcentric, a 50:50 joint venture centred around the production of fuel cells.

What is taking so long?

For logistics companies with a huge fleet of trucks the switch from diesel to electric trucks is quite a challenge and will require working together with businesses, communities, and governments. Sales of e-trucks have been slow and there are obstacles of availability and cost, at least for now. There is also the problem that electric trucks are limited on power and range when compared to diesel-powered ones due to their battery size. The most prominent issue, however, is that electrifying the entire fleet will take time due to the lack of sufficient and reliable charging infrastructure. In Europe, it is predicted that the first 100 hydrogen refuelling stations and 40,000 electric charging stations will be necessary by 2025. By 2030, there will be a necessity of more than 1,000 hydrogen stations and around 300,000 electric charging stations only for the heavy-duty trucks.

An average Class 8 electric truck consumes about 2kWh per mile, meaning that for an electric line haul truck to operate similarly to its diesel counterpart, it will need approximately 660kWh of electricity per day. Even if overnight charging is feasible, charging power of more than 80kW is needed, writes ICF International Inc. Among the many issues regarding the charging of heavy-duty e-trucks is grid interconnection and capacity. Heavy duty vehicles have higher energy needs, and high-power charging station (often greater than 50 kW) are needed to support them. Determining the proper location of charging stations for heavy duty vehicles is often limited by the availability of grid interconnection and capacity.

In addition, there is the Euro 7 bump in the road. According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), the EC’s Euro 7 proposal is particularly harsh for trucks as it neglects the rapidly accelerating shift to zero-emission vehicles and ignores the effect of future CO2 targets for heavy-duty vehicles, putting the whole process of moving towards decarbonisation in trucking upside down.

“To comply with Euro VII, truck makers will have to move substantial engineering and financial resources from battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles back to the internal combustion engine. This will severely impact our transition to zero-emission vehicles,” stated Martin Lundstedt, CEO of Volvo Group and Chairperson of ACEA’s Commercial Vehicle Board. “Policy makers should focus on measures that accelerate fleet renewal, prioritising investments in zero-emission vehicles, which will have a far bigger impact on both air quality and reduced CO2 emissions,” said Lundstedt.

Industry players must therefore raise and answer a few important questions. Are manufacturers able to quickly produce the necessary number of trucks, in case large companies such as Girteka which has a huge fleet would want to renew it entirely? Are private and public sectors ready to invest into the necessary infrastructure, which would enable the use of battery-cell and battery-electric vehicles? Is the legal basis of various EU countries prepared for the utilization of such trucks on their roads?

“All truck manufacturers agree that battery-electric trucks will be a key technology, with hydrogen-powered trucks playing a role too. These technologies will drive us towards climate neutrality,” says Thomas Fabian, ACEA Commercial Vehicles Director. His argument is that the policies aimed at supporting the transition of the road transport sector cannot focus exclusively on truck manufacturers but must also incentivise transport operators to embrace zero-emission trucks.

“Decarbonising road transport requires more than strengthening CO2 targets for manufacturers,” says Fabian. “To ensure a swift transition, one which is also commercially viable for transport operators, the focus should be put on the framework conditions to enable the market uptake of these new generation trucks.” Furthermore, “A regulation aimed at supporting this transition, should – among others – prioritise the swift roll-out of a dense network of charging and refuelling stations, accompanied by an effective carbon pricing system that eventually extends to road transport,” concludes Fabian.

How does Girteka do it?

For a company like Girteka, which is the largest asset-based road freight transporter in Europe, the goal is to find the best emission-free alternative for long-haul transportation and become a green carrier. The company is looking at the emissions challenge from different angles and envisions a five-step approach towards becoming a zero-emission carrier. Girteka’s trucks run on Euro 6 standard, but when it comes to alternative fuels, the company already utilizes HVO 100 fuel. Even when the clients’ destinations are far away from re-fuelling infrastructure, the company offers „mass balancing” practice – when the client pays the whole sum for this fuel and it is utilized in the carrier’s fleet, but not necessarily in that geographical region, where the customer’s goods are being transported.

Secondly, Girteka’s massive fleet of 9,000 trucks is constantly being updated with the fresh-off-the-market vehicles (average age of the entire fleet is just 2,5 years old) which also include the latest technologies – the most effective engines, gearboxes, as well as safety and comfort measures. For instance, the company’s Volvo trucks are equipped with the “I-Save” technology, which helps save 10% of fuel translating to an equal percentage of reduced emissions.

Another way that the company sees as a potential to reduce its emissions is via drivers’ education. Girteka’s Eco League and Drivers’ Academy focus on developing drivers’ eco-driving skills. As it turns out, this enables to reduce emissions by 2%. “We cannot sit and wait for the right infrastructure to be developed. Becoming a green carrier is not only ours, but also one of our clients’ main priorities, which is why together with our partners we are already proactively looking for ways on how to reduce emissions substantially,” says Pavel Kveten, Chief Operating Officer at Girteka Europe West.

The third and very important step is focusing on intermodal rail transport solution. In 2021, for two years in a row, Girteka made 95% more shipments using intermodal and managed to save 14.4kg of CO2 emissions that year. Using intermodal rail systems with electric propulsion allows to reduce 90% of emissions. The company continues expanding its potential route network together with its partners all over Europe. The goal is to have at least 20% of all of the carrier’s shipments transported using intermodal by 2025.

Looking for digital solutions to utilize the company’s fleet to the maximum of efficiency is the fourth step. Together with partners SAP, Girteka is looking for the best solutions to analyse huge amounts of data. On a daily basis, the company needs to oversee over 3,000 orders and ensure an effective utilization of over 9,000 trucks to fulfil those orders. At the same time, the carrier must oversee and maintain control over more than 200 possible events that could affect a single truck’s capability to transport cargo on that day or the capability to load one truck every day. The result is 1,8 million possible events that could affect loads every 24 hours.

By digitalizing the company’s processes, Girteka was able to improve the efficiency of the fleet by reducing empty kilometres and fuel-related costs, optimizing routes, scaling down impact on the environment, and improving the efficiency of drivers’ working hours. The core idea is that investments into digitalization will help reduce risks and ensure an effective fleet utilization, and in turn deliver the best experience for the company’s clients.

“We believe that together with our partners we will be able to find answers to questions on how to integrate new generation trucks, which will run on electricity or hydrogen,” notes Kveten.

The company is already testing e-trucks in Western Europe and has recently partnered with Scania for the delivery of up to 600 battery-electric vehicles over the next four years. The companies will collaborate on establishing charging infrastructure and optimising charging solutions. The scale-up of sustainable transportation will be realised by a deployment of vehicles with Scania’s new Super powertrain, which delivers eight percent fuel savings compared to the previous generation. The adoption of e-trucks is the fifth and final step in moving toward zero-emission trucking.

“But the question what new generation trucks will be fuelled with will not be the only one to consider – we are waiting for progress in autonomous driving area,” adds Kveten.

As the e-truck market matures, eventually, there will be more choice around not only driven e-trucks but also driverless ones. Self-driving trucks could alleviate bottlenecks and reduce costs. They could also be part of the solution to the ongoing shortage of qualified truck drivers. According to Girteka, the way that driverless cars could impact the heavy-duty transport sector is that humans will not be replaced but will work together with artificial intelligence (AI). In the future road transportation should become an ecosystem, with clients and partners integrated into it and working together towards a greener road freight logistics sector.