21 April 2022

Renewable fuel revolution; what does it mean in the future?  

There is an ever-growing need to reduce the environmental impact and carbon emissions produced within the transport and logistics industry around the world. With this increasing pressure, HGV manufacturers are trying to produce more environmentally-friendly alternatives to traditional fossil fuels that are currently used.

However, designing new technology and engines to suit alternative fuel types isn’t a quick solution. It will take years to get it right before new solutions can be introduced to the open market and be competitive options for many businesses. Before we get to that point, it’s important for those within the industry to understand what is currently available and what the future could look like.  

Hydrogen lorries

Although produced by fossil fuels, hydrogen-powered HGVs are currently one of the greenest options available and in production, with the first few now operating on European soil. It is hoped that with the continued increase in renewable energy within the production and manufacturing process for larger vehicles, hydrogen fuel will become a more well-rounded option for reducing the sector’s carbon footprint.

For a hydrogen-fuelled lorry, there are two ways that hydrogen can be used: fuel cells and a combustion engine. For fuel cells, hydrogen is used to generate electricity to power an electric motor, a similar system to that in an electric car. On the other hand, hydrogen can also be used to fuel a traditional combustion engine. Some HGV manufacturers believe this second option is a quicker and more sustainable solution as it’s believed that existing truck designs could be adapted. This could assist customers in the transition by not only shortening the manufacturing times but also reducing the cost of new vehicles.  

Hybrid lorries

As a blend of two worlds, a hybrid lorry offers a combination of both an electric and fossil fuel combustion engine. It’s seen as a good alternative option for many businesses who are looking to reduce their carbon footprint but not in fully electric vehicles. As a stepping stone, a hybrid HGV combines both engine types to enable drivers and businesses to still complete longer journeys without necessarily having to stop to re-charge their electric engine, while still reducing their carbon footprint.

As part of this transition, manufacturers are starting to produce such options, including Scania, who in late 2021, introduced their new range of hybrid lorries, in both plug-in and full hybrid models. However, it’s important to note that there is still an issue with plug-in hybrids and the lack of lorry-friendly charging stations, and therefore other hybrid options are likely to be favourable.  

Electric lorries

The next step from hybrid vehicles, electric HGVs are currently seen as the future for the logistics and transport sector. Similar to the domestic automotive industry, this is partly due to it being the favoured method of alternative fuel to meet the UK Government’s requirements. These requirements are for all new HGVs weighing 26 tonnes and under to be phased out by 2035, and all new HGVs sold in the UK to be zero-emission by 2040.

Lorry manufacturers are trying to step up to this deadline, with more and more working to produce viable options for the market. There are two main issues currently being faced within this transformative process: charging and batteries. Similar to plug-in hybrids, there is currently not a big enough lorry charging network to cope with changing market needs. The other issue is around the batteries, which need to be big in size and power to power heavy goods vehicles, making them incredibly heavy with today’s technology. Not only this, but the range currently isn’t long enough for the amount of travelling that lorry drivers do. It’s important to note that as technology continues to develop, these issues will be tackled, making electric lorries a potentially viable option.  

Are there other alternative fuel lorries available?

Although three main alternatives are being investigated by large HGV manufacturers, other alternative fuels could be used to power larger vehicles. As with any options, they all have their appeals and drawbacks but could still reduce carbon emissions. These alternative fuels include:

  • Biodiesel – made from soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, coconut and used frying oil which is then converted into methyl esters and then into diesel oil. Currently, due to production and technology, it’s an expensive option but could be a viable option if invested in.
  • Dimethyl ether (DME) – this can be produced from renewable energy sources and could be an alternative to diesel engines as it would not require much modification. However, the injection systems design is in the early stages.
  • Liquified natural gas (LNG) – generally not as efficient as traditional diesel engines and requires specialist fuelling stations, but it does offer lower particulate emissions than diesel.  

Get in touch

In an ever-changing world, it can be tricky to know what will happen in the next few years. However, TouchStar is always here to help. Whether your HGVs are powered by new technology, fuels options or more traditional fuels, we’re here to digitalise and optimise your logistics. Our team of experts are on hand and more than happy to discuss key operational directives with you - get in touch today to find out more.

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