A number of recent trials have set out to study whether electrifying certain sections of major highways across Europe is a sensible way to cut the harmful emissions associated with HGVs. And now a new study by Carbone 4 has delved into this issue more comprehensively than ever, according to Commercial Fleet.
Truck manufacturers such as Scania have been closely involved with the development of the infrastructural elements and vehicle adaptations which will be required to make this a reality. And the latest report suggests that a hybrid approach to HGV power trains will be the best way to take advantage of the eco-benefits while retaining the practicality of long-distance transport.
Overhead Power Lines?
The most impactful solution determined by analysts and industry experts is one which required overhead power lines to be installed on motorways, meaning that trucks can hook up to them directly and receive electricity to power onboard motors, much like trains. A traditional diesel engine would still be present, but it would only kick in when the trucks are overtaking or travelling away from main roads without an electric infrastructure.
The report also found that embracing this concept would enable existing transport networks to remain relevant going forwards while still providing HGV operators with the ability to lower their carbon footprint.
In addition, it is made clear that for haulage firms themselves there would be little need to make any major changes to the way that they operate, since trucks would still function much as they do at the moment, albeit with a lesser negative impact on the environment.
A little under £3 billion in public funding is estimated to be required in order to make the rollout of the electrified highway infrastructure viable and ultimately profitable for truck manufacturers, transport firms and energy providers, according to the study. Furthermore, around 30 megatonnes of carbon dioxide usually generated by transport would be avoided.
The report, which focuses on the impact of HGVs in France, pointed out that a fifth of all harmful emissions generated nationally each year can be attributed directly to trucks. This is a sizeable slice given the wide range of other industries which rely upon fossil fuels to operate, hence the pressing need to take action to improve the sustainability of commercial vehicles.
Hybrid trucks make sense from a variety of perspectives, especially given that the infrastructure to support fully electric HGVs is not in place at the moment and will take at least a decade or more to spread across the continent.
Some manufacturers are taking a different approach, with natural gas being promoted as the alternative fuel of choice by Iveco and others. Meanwhile, the development of trucks powered by fuel cells rather than onboard batteries presents yet another potential direction that the industry might take.
For the time being, diesel still reigns supreme, but truck buyers should start to think about how their choices will be impacted as a result of the changes that are being considered at the moment.