Recommendations for climate-friendly road freight transport

30.10.2018

How can road freight transport contribute to climate protection in the future? This question is addressed in a joint paper of Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, the Oeko-Institut and ifeu – Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg.

Road freight transport in Germany emits about 40 million tons of CO2 annually, accounting for about a quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions from transport. A further increase in road transport is forecasted. In order for freight transport to make a relevant contribution to climate protection, there must be a switch to alternative drive trains and fuels. Even if the potential for shifting to rail is fully exploited, the pressure to act remains high for trucks.

Particularly promising are overhead electric or battery electric trucks, especially in local and regional transport, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, the Oeko-Institut and ifeu – Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg. A switch to electric trucks can reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as operating costs and can be beneficial for the energy sector.

Government action needed for the switch to alternative drive systems

For these benefits to materialise and for market players to be able to make medium and long-term investment decisions, swift, decisive and reliable government action is necessary. This requires ambitious efficiency standards for trucks, a tax and levy structure based on CO2 emissions and the development of the necessary infrastructure.

“The actors involved can only make directional decisions if the state sets forward-looking framework conditions for climate-friendly road freight transport,“ explains Florian Hacker, transport expert at the Oeko-Institut. “The initiation and pre-financing of early infrastructure expansion for alternative drive systems is a central element in this.“

According to current estimates, a basic supply network for around 40,000 trucks can already be realised with total investments of between around 2.5 and 5 billion euros, depending on the drive technology, and can thus supply energy to a large number of vehicles along main corridors.

Benefit from the advantages of electric trucks

In addition to greenhouse gas savings for climate protection, overhead line and battery-electric trucks also have other advantages. For example, their operating costs are lower than for vehicles using diesel and are significantly lower than those using fuel cells or synthetic fuels in combustion engines. This quickly offsets the higher acquisition costs of these vehicles, making climate-friendly freight transport competitive on the market. For the energy system, catenary trucks in particular have advantages over other technologies, as their power consumption is lower than that of synthetic (current-based) fuels and is distributed more evenly over the network.

“The topic of alternative drivetrains has great potential not least because of the ´domestic value creation´ and the know-how in the automotive sector,“ states Dr. Patrick Plötz, project manager at Fraunhofer ISI. “German technology companies, for example, have a great deal of knowledge of energy supply from railway technology and German vehicle manufacturers are already involved in the development and testing of alternative truck drives.”

Gain experience and learn for the future

The switch to alternative drives such as overhead line trucks can only be successful if these are tested and further developed at an early stage. Large demonstration projects help to gather practical experience and take into account the requirements of market players and society. They are important for developing a long-term strategy for climate protection in road freight transport. The investment risks for the next steps are manageable. In the future, synergies could also emerge between different infrastructures, for example between overhead lines and stationary charging points.

“Today, we have sufficient knowledge to assess the advantages and disadvantages of different technologies for freight transport. A fundamental improvement in the knowledge base is not to be expected in the coming years,“ summarises Julius Jöhrens, project manager at the ifeu - Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg. “In view of the urgency and scale of the challenge, market-oriented technologies should now be tested on a larger scale and with the necessary government support.”

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.