Alternative Power Sources for Trucking

New emissions targets call for increased action for reaching zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by all forms of transportation of people and goods over streets, roads and highways. That means all autos, trucks and buses need to convert to alternative fuel or power sources. In the United States, climate change is driving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to call for stricter emissions targets in hopes of avoiding further damage to the environment.

According to the White House the EPA wants 67% of autos and light trucks to be electrified by 2032. The target for buses and medium-duty trucks is 50% electrified and for regional haulers the target is 35% electric. The final target is to see 25% long haul tractors battery electric vehicles.

Trouble is…

The flaw in the ointment is there is not adequate charging infrastructure to support long haul transportation of goods. And do we really have any idea of how much electricity will cost and how long it will take to charge an electric tractor’s batteries in transit? The long haul sector is almost certain to suffer from longer shipping times. How will the public tolerate more supply chain delays in the interest of saving the planet? Will technology catch up to enable on-time electrified deliveries with a cost-effective power source during the 10-year target time?

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) issued a report on alternative power sources. The report arrived at conclusions concerning several power sources applying to trucking.

First, a hydrogen fuel cell power source is in its infancy and will likely eventually become the primary fuel for long haul applications carrying heavy loads. At present, no other power source, other than diesel, shows prominence for long haul class 8 tractors. But diesel fuel won’t get the trucking industry to zero emissions.

The Messy Middle

Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) fueled trucks will be necessary in the interim together with battery electric powered trucks to move freight, along with diesel powered vehicles in what the NACFE calls the messy middle until hydrogen takes over for long haul applications.

RNG is biogas that has been upgraded and made pure through processing. It is the gaseous product of landfill waste and then liquified into compressed natural gas (CNG) which can then be used as a transportation fuel for trucks. Unfortunately, at present it does not offer an answer to long haul trucking needs.

It is believed that by far the most economical solution for truck transportation is battery electric vehicles as that power will reach scale first over hydrogen and RNG. Once an infrastructure of hydrogen delivery systems exists, RNG will no longer be practical for freight transportation with electric vehicles handling short haul and regional freight distribution. So, NACFE sees a marriage of sorts with battery electric vehicles transporting shorter hauls and hydrogen handling the long haul sector.

At least that is the plan. But, as usual, the future is always uncertain. None of us knows what technological advances will be made in years to come. At least we can all take comfort in the fact that steps are being taken to clean up the air we must breathe and improve the lives of our children. May they inherit a great future.

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