Shaping the future with alternative propulsion technologies
The corona crisis, a shortage of skilled workers and fierce competition: the transport industry is faced with a multitude of challenges. And, at the same time, it has to deal with ever stricter emissions standards. To discuss the opportunities and hurdles on the road to zero-emission transport, IMPACT RheinMain, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences and the Bundesverband Güterkraftverkehr Logistik und Entsorgung (BGL) e.V. (Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Disposal) hosted an online workshop on October 23, 2020, entitled "Mit Antrieb gestalten - Straßengüterverkehr von Morgen" (Shaping the future with alternative propulsion technologies - Road Freight Transport of Tomorrow). More than 70 participants took the opportunity to gain insights into current developments offered by a range of experts.
Hydrogen as the key to a competitive, emission-free transport sector
Professor Thomas Heimer made it clear right at the beginning, however, that the workshop was not about promoting individual technologies. He highlighted the importance of IMPACT RheinMain as a platform: “Our objective is to help you be successful in the mobility market of tomorrow.”
In their joint opening speech, Professor Heimer, Professor Birgit Scheppat and Professor Manfred Loidold emphasized the importance of hydrogen as an energy source of the future. For example, the first hydrogen trucks are already in use today, with a load capacity comparable to diesel trucks, a range of about 400 km and a refueling time of 15 minutes. But: “What we still don't have is series production,” said Professor Scheppat. Professor Loidold reported that a lot of progress is being made in this area. Projects are now underway at both established and new manufacturers. Even if there is not yet a “mass market,” there is a lot of momentum: “A great deal of work is being done on hydrogen trucks in many areas. The proof that the concept is viable is there."
Impressions from the field
A first impression of the practical use of alternative propulsion technologies in the form of trucks powered by natural gas was provided by Alexander Steinberg from EDGAR GRAß SPEDITIONS-GMBH & CO. KG. In an interview with Professor Loidold, he emphasized that the scale of the refueling station network would determine the deployment in the initial phase. Another factor complicating the situation is the lack of planning certainty due to an unclear political policy, for example with regard to an exemption from road toll charges.
Andre Kranke from DACHSER SE expanded on this in his presentation with practical experience from around the world. As he explained, in addition to the infrastructure and the key economic indicators, driver acceptance also plays an important role, as does performance, as pure battery electric solutions are not yet ready for implementation in practice in this respect. A lot of work also still needs to be done to convince people of the benefits of hydrogen trucks. DACHSER SE's experience in regional logistics to date has also shown that deliveries with zero-emission vehicles also require the creation of completely new processes. This, he explained, is a consequence of the diversification of the transport fleet, starting with electric cargo bikes for deliveries within city centers and extending to vehicles with a load capacity of up to five tons and a range of 200 km.
Markus Körner from Clean Logistics GmbH was able to provide an insight into the technology, or more precisely: the conversion of truck tractors. In order to meet the EU's emission targets, the transport sector would need to reduce emissions by 40 percent over the next ten years. This can only be achieved with fuel cells, he said, given the everyday demands of the forwarding business. In terms of cost-effectiveness, the monthly costs of hydrogen trucks are lower than those of diesel trucks, factoring in future CO2 pricing and exemption from tolls. However, an important factor for the attractiveness of hydrogen trucks will also be the subsidies provided by the government for purchase and conversion, which are still uncertain. Markus Körner also sees the infrastructure with 350-bar fueling stations as being key to “a rapid market ramp-up of buses and trucks”.
Dialog with entrepreneurs
Following the presentations, the participants had the opportunity to formulate their requirements and needs in three workshop groups on the topics of "Technology", "Infrastructure" and "General Parameters".
In all three groups, it became clear that costs were one of the key criteria. Accordingly, the possible subsidies were important for the participants, be it those for acquisition costs for the trucks, for the construction costs for (company-owned) fueling stations or the exemption from toll charges.
With regard to technology, questions relating to availability also played a major role. The participants confirmed Mr. Steinberg's statement that both the refueling station network as well as the aspect of the service infrastructure are crucial, and not just within Germany but throughout Europe. Basically, hydrogen trucks would have to fit into the logistical processes of the respective companies, most importantly in terms of refueling time. For the participants, however, the question of the education and training of their employees was also important, both in the area of high-voltage technology as well as in the handling of hydrogen. It became clear that there are still reservations concerning the safety of hydrogen-powered trucks, which will first have to be dispelled among drivers, but also among customers.
What the participants expect from politics was clearly articulated. With digitalization, the corona crisis, the shortage of skilled workers and fierce competition on the European market, transport companies are under pressure in many areas. The government should not make the situation even more difficult by not providing sufficient clarity as far as the framework conditions are concerned, thus creating a lack of planning security. The rules for at least the coming 15 years need to be clear.
Despite these challenges, however, participants in all three groups were open to using hydrogen trucks. The participants were unanimous in their willingness to contribute to achieving climate goals and that a platform such as this event should be continued.