Alternative powertrains for HDVs under discussion

According to a study by Fraunhofer ISI, trucking companies are open to switching to alternative powertrains. Developments in technology and infrastructure and political support are needed to turn this basic willingness into an actual change.

Transport accounts for about 20 percent of the total CO2 emissions in Germany. Major emitters here include long-haul freight vehicles, 99% of which run on diesel, so switching HDV powertrains to carbon-neutral technology can make a large contribution to reducing emissions. The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI has determined the requirements for switching to alternative powertrains in a quantitative study. 70 persons from Germany took part in the analysis, primarily the CEOs of mainly medium-sized trucking companies. Although this selection is not representative based on the size of the transport sector, the results do allow general conclusions to be drawn. Among other things, the analysis explored respondents’ vehicle requirements, and which conditions future infrastructure has to meet.

With regard to the economic requirements, the interviewees largely agreed: Total costs across the entire life cycle are especially important, as is reliability. These two factors are strongly dependent on each other, because vehicle breakdowns and repair costs can cause high losses. Transparency and confidence must be created here, for example, through demonstration projects, so that alternative powertrains are perceived as reliable and practicable alternatives to conventional engines.

Due to strong competition and high cost pressure in the freight forwarding and logistics sector, the companies have little financial leeway – especially when it comes to implementing environmentally-friendly measures. Fraunhofer ISI’s analysis reveals, however, that ecological aspects are important to many of those questioned: For instance, more than 50 percent agreed with the statement that alternative powertrains are of particular interest to companies for climate protection reasons. However, compared to the economic requirements, the answers in this category varied widely, which suggests a shift in opinion is currently taking place.

When asked about their willingness to switch to alternative powertrains, 50 percent (rather) agreed, while 27 percent are still undecided. Mainly larger companies showed a willingness to change. An important reason is that they are more likely to have the financial means to purchase expensive alternative powertrains. The investments also pay off more quickly in such companies because of their higher mileages and lower operating costs. In addition, larger organizations are more likely to introduce guidelines that embody corporate social responsibility and environmental protection.

Another part of the questionnaire was aimed at gathering information about the design of future infrastructure for alternative powertrains. On average, people are prepared to make a detour of 20 kilometers to refuel or charge a vehicle. The generally accepted refueling or charging time is 15 minutes; the average required minimum range of a truck is about 800 kilometers. These results reveal the biggest challenges associated with switching powertrain: The minimum range required is only possible to a limited extent with today’s alternative powertrains, and the refueling station infrastructure is not yet sufficient with regard to the willingness to make detours and the time needed to refuel/recharge. Significant progress is needed here in the coming decades, because the European Commission is calling for a 15 percent drop in the CO2 emissions of commercial vehicles by 2030.

Philipp Kluschke, the study‘s main author, emphasizes: “If heavy freight traffic is to switch to CO2-neutral powertrains, their reliability and their contribution to reducing the total cost of ownership must be demonstrated and ensured through support programs and political measures. Reducing the required investments is also essential for their widespread diffusion, for instance, through state subsidies or by supporting development and production. Direct state intervention is essential for developing infrastructure; companies cannot do this alone. Last, but not least, knowledge and practical experiences should be increased through demonstration and information projects, for example. Our survey showed: If people are well informed about alternative powertrains, they are more open to the change.“

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.

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