Even in these difficult times as Corona virus dominates all of our lives and grabs the news headlines, it is still virtually impossible to surf the web, pick up a newspaper or trade magazine, listen to the radio or watch TV without seeing or hearing something about climate change or electric passenger vehicles. But what does this all mean to the commercial vehicle industry?

The climate change reduction goal stated in the Paris Agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius, by reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs). Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) in the UK, are currently estimated to account for around 17% of UK GHG emissions and around 21% of UK road transport NOx emissions, while making up just 5% of vehicle miles. Moving to Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) for commercial use would therefore have a big impact.

The 2008 Climate Change Act sets a legally binding target to reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 80% by 2050, relative to 1990 levels. The Act requires the Government to cap GHG emissions over successive five-year periods, known as ‘carbon budgets’. The fifth carbon budget, covering the period 2028-2032, was set in legislation in July 2016. Meeting our climate change targets will require action across all sectors of the economy, including road freight.

In February 2020, the UK Government announced that it plans to ban all diesel and petrol vehicles from UK roads by 2035! The change comes after experts said 2040 would be too late if the UK wants to achieve its target of emitting virtually zero carbon by 2050. Just how realistic is this when only 2% of all UK annual vehicle registrations are ZEVs?

Meanwhile, the haulage and logistics business is becoming ever more complex with major cities introducing clean-air and low emission zones, continuing driver shortages and the outfall from Brexit to deal with. The prospect of alternatively fuelled vehicles may seem a long way away. However, time marches quickly and 2035 is within sight and only 15 years away – just three 5-year business planning cycles.

With c. 500,000 >3,500kgs GVW on the road in the UK and on average 47,500 new registrations each year, within the normal business cycle, it would take 11 years to replace the total HGV parc in the UK in order to change the total running parc to Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) by 2035.  The average life length for commercial vehicles in the vehicle operating parc is c. 7.5 years; so there is a little more time but plans for the future need to start soon. Right now c. 50% of the UK HGV parc is Euro 3-5 and needs upgrading to Euro VI diesel standard as a matter of urgency; a Government scrappage scheme would help.

Truck manufacturers are busy working on alternative fuel solutions but are operators ready to move away from diesel? The Motor Transport Industry Monitor 2019 surveyed a broad number of operators and 75% of those surveyed had no plans for alternatively fuelled vehicles preferring to stay with diesel to the end.

The current favoured alternative fuels to diesel for commercial use are: biodiesel, liquid gas (LNG) and hybrid or pure electric. On a ‘Well to Tank’ the use of biodiesel and LNG will not produce the required zero emission results. In fact pump diesel emits 617.09 gCO2e/Litre, biodiesel emits 367.95 gCO2e/Litre, LNG emits 877.9 gCO2e/Litre and UK Grid Electricity emits 315.98 gCO2e/Litre. So none of the alternative fuels suggested are without their emission overheads but electricity seems to offer the greatest overall reduction, with further reductions possible in the future via renewable energy sources.

Thus many industry analysts believe that electric commercial vehicles will be the future with some pointing to the need to develop hydrogen power for heavy trucks. If electric power is to become the norm the current lithium-ion batteries would not offer all heavy truck operators the required: payload, range, safety, charge time, and life length required and would probably only satisfy specialist requirements for inner city use. Equally the Total Operating Costs (TOCs) including residual values (RVs) are an unknown presently – manufacturers need to work very hard to explain these critical cost factors to operators if they are to be persuaded to change from diesel power any time soon.

There is huge investment being made in research and development (R&D) to establish alternative battery technologies to overcome the aforementioned lithium-ion battery limitations; the outcome will surely determine the direction the manufacturers take. Taking the wrong decision on this strategic subject will put some of the traditional manufacturers at risk as new entrants such as Tesla and Nicolas, in the USA, eye the freight transport industry with great interest and enthusiasm.

If you want to know more about this important subject, then we recommend you read ‘The Road to Zero Emissions’ available for pre order now from https://theroadtozeroemissions.com