Recognizing the direction of flow and going with it is certainly a good survival tactic, particularly with respect to diesel engines.
So the move by European truck makers to tackle the challenge of a continent-wide commitment to decarburization should be seen as a refreshing attempt to mold the narrative and future landscape rather than refusing to acknowledge the direction of travel.
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Diesel engines, electric vehicles and lower emissions
The European Union has plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by the end of the decade.
Transport will play a big part in that.
Automotive car manufacturers, driven by challenging targets, have and continue to invest billions to develop viable electric vehicles. In some cases, they are also exploring alternatives such as fuel cells.
However, the truck industry has so far concentrated on producing ever more fuel-efficient, lower-emission diesel engines.
As the Financial Times reports, though, an alliance of Europe’s largest truck makers has now pledged to stop selling engines that emit emissions by 2040.
Daimler, Scania, Man, Volvo, Daf, Iveco and Ford have signed a pledge to phase out traditional combustion engines and focus on hydrogen, battery technology and clean fuels.
The report says the industry will spend between €50 billion and €100 billion on new technologies to achieve this goal. First, they plan on introducing biofuels, which have a carbon capture and storage component. Having already taken CO2 out of the atmosphere, they are said to be more carbon neutral than fossil fuels. However, they will migrate over the next twenty years to hydrogen fuel cells and batteries — or, likely, a combination of both depending on how technologies and investment in infrastructure develops.
Under the coordination of the E.U. carmakers’ association ACEA, they are working with the German-funded Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research to consider the best technologies and approaches to follow – and, no doubt, where to lobby for state support to aid the process.
Carbon tax disincentive
One key area already identified is a higher carbon tax in the E.U. The industry says that to realistically incentivize investment they have to disincentivize the advantages currently enjoyed by internal combustion engine (ICE) systems. “If politicians continue to subsidize fossil fuels, it will be very difficult for us, we need to change the behavior of our customers, and of our customers’ customers,” Scania chief executive Henrik Henriksson told the Financial Times.
It goes without saying that, in the meantime, the customer is going to end up paying for this. A higher carbon tax will be borne by the trucking industry and its users, not by truck manufacturers.
As costs rise for ICE engine systems (e.g., diesel), the industry will find demand will fall for ICE engines. In turn, demand will rise for EV or fuel cell alternatives. Of course, that will only happen if they are deemed viable in terms of range, reliability and speed of refueling.
As a trucker observed to me the other day, “I covered 250,000 miles in the last three years, if I went electric it would currently take me six years because I would spend half my time sitting in truck stops recharging!”
That’s why many believe the future for heavy transport will be hydrogen fuel cells with battery back-up or support.
However, two challenges need to be resolved.
The first is an adequate infrastructure of refuelling stations, at least on major roads and motorways.
The other is the development of clean energy electrolysis splitting water. Currently, most hydrogen comes from natural gas making it essentially a fossil fuel.
Still, as we have seen with auto EVs, first technology needs to be developed. Then, costs have to be reduced. Gradually, the most viable solutions emerge.
At least Europe’s truck makers are trying to coordinate investment and agree on a common direction — that’s an encouraging sign.