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Transport & Logistics

Electric power, the ideal alternative for clean heavy goods vehicles?

As European standards become increasingly stringent, environmental pressure is pushing haulage companies to make their heavy goods vehicle (HGV) fleets more environmentally friendly. Faced with an uneven European electric charging network and the limited battery life of vehicles that often travel long distances, is electric power the ideal alternative ?

Is the time of polluting HGVs coming to an end? Faced with global awareness of environmental issues and increasingly stringent standards to limit pollutant emissions (Euro V in 2009 and Euro VI in 2013), this possibility seems more relevant than ever. In March 2019, the European Parliament approved a requirement for a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 and a 30% reduction by 2030. As a result, increasing numbers of carriers and logistics professionals are greening their HGV fleets by opting for cleaner, more responsible vehicles.

Range: a persistent weakness of electric heavy goods vehicles

The performance of electric heavy goods vehicles is proven: 100% electric lorries are completely emission-free when in use. This is a good point when one considers that lorries with conventional internal combustion engines alone account for 8% of French CO2 emissions, according to Citepa (Inter-Branch Technical Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Studies). In addition to the polluting emissions generated by these models, the noise pollution caused by such vehicles should also be taken into account. Here again, electric power promises a significant reduction in this problem, as electric vehicles are completely silent.

However, electric vehicles face a major obstacle: their range. Although manufacturers worldwide have worked to extend electric vehicle range, it remains limited. This is a major stumbling block for the many lorries that make long-distance journeys. An uneven European charging network and the resulting difficulties in recharging contribute to the complexity of adopting electric HGVs and, for the moment, confine their use to an essentially urban environment. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association estimates that 90,000 public charging points would be required to develop the sector. Another argument against electric power is the cost of batteries, which can quickly rise, but also their size. As they increase in size to enable longer journeys, their load capacity diminishes and the total purchase costs rise, undermining the company’s competitiveness.

The key: balancing your energy mix

Although electric vehicles cannot currently make up the bulk of an HGV fleet, there is a wide variety of options. Even though diesel lorries are likely to remain a relevant long-distance haulage solution for several more years, it is still possible to add other solutions to the energy mix, such as liquefied natural gas, which offers a range comparable to that of diesel, but emits less CO2 and pollutants, especially natural biogas for vehicles. For couriers and medium distance haulage operators, other technical solutions such as natural gas (non-liquefied), synthetic HVO (Hydro-treated Vegetable Oil or xTL), bio-diesel (B100), or bio-ethanol are developing and are likely to become more popular with the help of the public authorities. The use of fuel cells (which produce their own electricity from hydrogen) could also make it possible to combine the zero emissions of electric lorries with the range provided by conventional lorries. A key question for companies remains: how can these solutions be combined in their vehicle fleets to reconcile respect for the environment and economic profitability? Although each manufacturer puts forward the technical solution(s) it has available, it is not easy to compare all the existing technologies and their relevance. Multi-brand leasing companies can provide answers, as FRAIKIN does, by offering companies a comparison of the efficiency of each technical solution according to the type of vehicle use.

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