Study: E-trucks lead the way in terms of cost efficiency

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Text: Oliver SchönfeldPhotos
Photos: T&E, BPW

Which technology is winning the race when it comes to zero emissions in the commercial vehicle sector? According to a recent study by the non-governmental organisation Transport & Environment, battery-electric long-haul trucks and trolley trucks come out on top in a comparison of total cost of ownership.

Greater fuel efficiency of diesel trucks, shifting freight transport to rail and waterways or higher logistics efficiency: individual aspects such as these are not enough to achieve the climate targets, according to Transport & Environment (T&E). Instead, the goal must be to be able to operate commercial vehicles in a completely CO2-neutral manner by 2050 at the latest, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) states in its study “The decarbonisation of long-distance transport in Germany” published in April. A group of experts compared five vehicle technologies with regard to their system and total cost of ownership (TCO):

• Battery electric vehicles
• Battery electric vehicles that draw their power from overhead lines
• Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles
• Diesel vehicles powered by liquid e-fuels
• Gas vehicles powered by gaseous e-fuels

Zero emissions by 2050

In Germany, 76 percent of all road freight transport is accounted for by individual journeys of up to 800 kilometres. The research team defined this distance as the minimum range of the vehicle technologies examined. The result of the analyses: In view of the expected market developments and the foreseeable cost reductions for the technologies, battery-electric long-haul trucks and trolley trucks will most likely be the most cost-effective way to replace most of the current vehicle fleet. This would reduce well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions in road freight transport to zero by 2050.
With eTransport, BPW has developed an electrically driven axle that enables the quiet and emission-free operation of commercial vehicles – sustainably and economically.

Cost parity in just a few years

According to the study, direct electrification of trucks will remain at least twice as efficient in the future as the use of renewable hydrogen and about three times as efficient as internal combustion engines powered by synthetic carbon-based fuels (e-fuels). Another conclusion of the Belgian NGO: Compared to trucks powered by fossil diesel, battery electric vehicles that draw their electricity from overhead lines could reach cost parity in total cost of ownership before the mid-2020s. Battery-electric vehicles would reach this level around the mid-2020s, hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles around 2030.

High demands on the charging infrastructure

However, even e-trucks do not drive without being “refuelled” regularly. The development of the necessary infrastructure is likely to require a great deal of effort on the part of all those involved. “In Germany, around 4,000 (semi-)public charging stations and so-called destination chargers must be installed by 2025. By 2030, their number must be at least 14,000,” the study says. In addition, high-power charging with at least 350 kilowatts should be possible at 30 to 50 percent of these stations.

A megawatt charging point every 50 kilometres

The study goes on to say: “For battery-powered long-haul trucks, an initial network consisting of high-capacity charging points and the so-called Megawatt Charging System (MCS) is needed along the motorways by 2025, at least one megawatt charging point every 100 kilometres by 2027 and finally complete coverage with megawatt charging points every 50 kilometres by 2030.” In addition, according to T&E, public night chargers (150 kilowatts) would be needed at truck rest areas, which should be available nationwide by 2030. The NGO is counting on financial support for private and public charging infrastructures from the public sector.
For the study “The decarbonisation of long-distance transport in Germany”, a group of experts compared five vehicle technologies with regard to their system costs and total cost of ownership (TCO).

Will the fuel cell remain a niche product?

And what about the prospects for the fuel cell? The study also ventures a prognosis on this: hydrogen fuel cell trucks with longer ranges might be more suitable for single journeys over 1,200 kilometres. However, these journeys only account for eleven percent of the total road freight transport in Germany. “In addition, niche applications are also conceivable in which the possible range and cost advantages of hydrogen trucks could come into play. Corresponding examples are off-road vehicles such as dump trucks in mining or vehicles for heavy-duty and special transport in road haulage.” In and around seaports, hydrogen trucks could also offer an operational and cost advantage for the delivery and removal of goods. In particular, the synergy effects with maritime shipping could favour this.

The end of the combustion engine truck in sight

The study draws a clear conclusion: “The current average fleet reduction target for 2030 of 30 percent is completely insufficient to achieve Germany’s and the European Union’s climate goals.” The target must therefore be significantly increased. Another recommendation of the study: “The EU should decide that no new internal combustion trucks with a gross vehicle weight of less than 26 tonnes will be sold from 2035 and no new internal combustion trucks over 26 tonnes from 2040 at the latest.”
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