Driving to the future

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LNG LKW der Deutschen Post Foto: Andreas Heddergott

ROAD freight vehicles may lag behind passenger cars in terms of electric and driverless technology … but they are catching up fast

 

Many industry outsiders consider that airfreight spends 100% of its time on an aircraft but few realise that it will spend 100% of its time being moved to an from an airport, often by a road vehicle, on the ground. Trucks and commercial vehicles, such as vans, have been used since the start of aviation to transport freight intended for flight.

What is very much in flux now is their control methods and means of propulsion. Car manufacturers may have stolen a march on truck makers by pioneering autonomous, driverless vehicles but the truck makers are catching up. Driverless trucks could very well be a regular presence on many roads within the next decade.

Electric avenue

In a recent blog, Gavin Borthwick MILT of Greencarrier Freight Services (UK), spelt out his thoughts on how electricity could soon move the world’s truck and van fleet. He blogged: “Today, automated and connected vehicle technologies are among the most heavily researched automotive technologies. What we see now is only a fraction of what will be developed for the future.

“The major global truck manufacturers are starting to invest in electric vehicle technology and preparing to put the first generation of electric trucks on the road. In late 2017, Tesla Inc. introduced its electric Tesla Semi with production planned for 2019 and Volvo Trucks recently delivered its first all-electric trucks in Sweden.”

A recent report in the Financial Times from the Hannover truck and bus show “feels deceptive”. Everywhere the reporter walked, there were electric and hybrid trucks, “giving the impression that new technology is on the ascendant.”

However, in the real world, whatever green thoughts a company my espouse, ‘whole life costs’ (the lifetime costs of buying and then operating a vehicle) still matter. This is why 97% of heavy-duty trucks sold in Europe this year are diesel, largely down to costs.

Buyers of trucks and buses are unwilling to pay more for electric vehicles that do little to boost profits. This creates a problem for manufacturers, who want to sell more electric vehicles. The chief executive of Daimler Truck, Martin Daum, was quoted by the newspaper: “If you have a truck that costs €100,000 and another that costs €150,000 but does the same job, which are you going to buy?”

While battery prices are coming down, the prices for carbon burning engines are going up as manufacturers were reported by the FT to be switching to electric.

What a gas

At the same time electric power trains are being developed, liquefied natural gas (LNG) powertrains have taken centre stage. DHL Freight, one of the leading providers of road freight services in Europe, has deployed one of the very first liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered Iveco Stralis long-haul trucks capable of towing a mega trailer.

During a year-long trial period the truck will operate as a daily shuttle between DHL’s logistics center and a BMW Group production plant in southern Germany. Thanks to a higher loading height and increased fuel efficiency, mega trailers in road transport are particularly important for the automotive industry, making BMW Group the ideal partner for testing in Germany.

Since last year’s contract renewal with the BMW Group, DHL has been managing the automotive manufacturer’s supply chain in seven additional areas, as well as all road transport between 17 countries.

“The combination of LNG truck and mega trailer is a promising sustainable solution for automotive logistics. We are able to meet the customer’s transport requirements in the best possible way, while also significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions along the supply chain.

“The increase in fuel efficiency and proven reduction of harmful emissions that comes with using natural gas help to make long-distance road transport more sustainable,” states Uwe Brinks, CEO DHL Freight.

DHL Freight has gained initial experience with LNG trucks in Belgium. Since summer 2018, four of these heavy-duty, long-haul trucks have been part of a sustainable transport solution for one of the world’s largest developers and sellers of athletic footwear and sportswear.

Now, for the first time, a natural gas-powered truck can be combined with a mega trailer, a feat previously not possible due to tank design. An internal loading height of three meters makes this equipment a preferred solution in the automotive sector as it offers not only more loading capacity but also the possibility of loading larger spare parts. Smarter alternatives According to Borthwick, Greencarrier Freight Services UK offers a “sophisticated and energy-efficient trucking solution with high technological advancements.”

Its fleet of 22 tractors and 100 trailers is on a telematics system, which enables the company to monitor and control driver behaviour. The telematics system dramatically improves key areas such as reduced idle time, driving within economy, cruise control usage and engine load time.

“All trucks are fitted with air deflector kits for the purpose of reducing drag, which in turn improves fuel efficiency and reduces carbon dioxide emissions,” he blogged. “Our trucks and trailers run on engines based on the latest EU standards for decreased emissions and all of our drivers are CPC certified. A CPC certificate is a European-recognised accreditation that includes a module for safe and efficient driving behaviour, also reducing the environmental impact.”

He continued: “Our fleet operates across the UK, Nordics, Baltics and mainland Europe. We also offer consolidation to maximise speed and efficiency and minimise the mileage we have to cover for each shipment.

“With high technological advancements, our eco trucking solution provides major benefits in terms of improved efficiency and reduced environmental impact. We are also able to provide our customers with emission reports and help with ensuring a concerted effort to reduce their own environmental impact. With lower emissions, a knock-on benefit is a higher economy return from the truck.”