Friday 3 December 2021

‘Don’t let diesel be branded the new asbestos’

Mounting concern about the threat to health posed by diesel exhaust fumes could see clean and efficient Euro 6 heavy-duty diesels being banned from many cities because of the poor performance of older and lighter diesel-engined vehicles, truck manufacturers fear.

Speaking at a ‘round table’ which formed part of the recent Microlise Transport Conference, senior representatives of four major marques voiced their concerns that a combination of devolved local powers and misconceptions about the perceived dangers of diesel could see heavy-duty trucks and buses banned from major conurbations with no viable alternatives in place.

The damage might be further compounded by a lack of clarity and consistency in postulated direct vision standards for trucks.

Thomas Hemmerich, managing director of MAN Truck & Bus UK; Martin Flach, Iveco’s alternative fuels director; Mark Grant, Scania’s aftersales director and Laurence Drake, DAF Trucks business planning director, agreed that challenges around environmental and safety issues would play a significant part in shaping the short and medium-term future of the truck industry.

Scania’s Mark Grant said: “There is a danger of diesel being branded as the new asbestos. It is going that way at the moment, and we must stop it. Diesel is the core technology for our industry, and it is likely to be so for many years to come.”

Flach pointed out there had been huge reductions in heavy-duty emissions of NOx and particulates since Euro 1 in 1992.

“There were criticisms at Euro 3 that the way the engines were tested didn’t align with use, but Euro 6 has been changed to include cold engine operation. In terms of NOx, we’ve gone down from 2.0 to 0.4 g/kW-hr to get from Euro 5 to Euro 6.”

DAF’s Laurence Drake said that diesel was still driving the economy. There was: “not enough detail in the ‘clean emissions’ consultations being put out by government.”

Hemmerich thought the industry faced an uphill battle.

“We will be driven faster than expected into eMobility.  We will see heavy commercials with electric power in the next five years,” he predicted.

Grant thought operators would end up running diverse fleets.

“We’ll see diesel confined to trunking, electric hybrids for urban, and gas, especially biogas, being used on mixed operations.”

Flach suggested the shapes of vehicles used in different roles would also become increasingly diverse.

“At the moment, we’ve got flat-fronted cabs, with boxes behind, in various sizes, doing it all. We’ll see a move away from this one style fits all.

“We can do things with aerodynamics to reduce fuel consumption, but that’s for motorways only. If we want to address air quality in cities and global warming on the motorway, then the shape of trucks has got to change to suit their roles.”

Shell experts predict a multi-fuel future

Operators may have to accept mixed fleets using a diverse range of energy sources if they are to survive in a world where a one-fuel (diesel) fits-all solution is no longer viable, Shell experts have said.

Speaking at Shell’s Make the Future Live event in London, the company’s retail business-to-business manager Scott McGregor (pictured) said: “In the future, fleet managers will need a diverse energy portfolio, which may include hydrogen, CNG, and electric vehicles.

“To a certain extent, the choice becomes a chicken and egg situation: which comes first: the infrastructure or the vehicles?

“Shell is currently launching CNG and electric fuelling points in the UK.

“The UK has very high levels of internet shopping and doorstep deliveries. The differentials between short- and long-haul will reflect in fuel choice.”

Christoph Domke, the director of commercial vehicles mobility practice at consultant researchers Frost & Sullivan, said that 80 per cent of heavy-duty trucks would still be running on diesel in 10 years’ time. However, CNG was likely to fuel an increasing number of light and medium trucks.

“Electrification of a Class 8 (heavy) truck was the holy grail,” he said, but questioned whether it was sustainable.

“Current OEMs are scheduled to have electrics available from 2025, but they may be beaten to it by start-ups from the USA and Israel,” he predicted.

McGregor said the lack of infrastructure was holding back electric vehicles.

Michael Copson, Shell’s hydrogen business development manager, said there were 15 new hydrogen filling stations planned for the UK.

“Hydrogen has traditionally been seen as the fuel of the future that always would be the fuel of the future,” he admitted wryly.

“But now costs are coming down and political and environmental pressures are driving it forward. Local air pollution has joined carbon output as a political driver,” he opined.

“For hydrogen to succeed we need co-operation between OEMs, governments and ourselves. Production light-duty vehicles are there now, and hydrogen buses have been around for 10 years. Trucks are currently lagging behind, but will catch up.

“For the moment, LNG and CNG are the leading alternative fuel for heavy-duty diesels, but we don’t need to pick a winner to the exclusion of others.

“Methane power, whether LNG or CNG, takes us a great step past Euro 6 on air quality. CNG and LPG are good for lighter vehicles, but the choice is also driven by geography, sector and policy: as an example, natural gas has weight penalties, but weight limits are widely ignored in India and China.”

Producing sufficient batteries to electrify commercial vehicles might also be a problem. Tesla’s plans for mass-produced electric cars could account for two-thirds of the world’s lithium reserves, and batteries for trucks were going to be a big challenge.

The mass of battery required to give a heavy truck a worthwhile range had to be traded against diminished payload.

McGregor agreed that electric HGVs were some way off: “The newest and most modern heavy-diesel vehicles are very efficient. Manufacturers have driven down CO2, noise and NOx. Light-duty freight vehicles are more likely to electrify than others.”

Domke said that the estimated cost of a battery for a Class 8 truck was $200,000!

“There’s a gap between the theory and reality of battery performance too, and hydrogen might be better,” he admitted.

However, he pointed out, a poor economic case did not necessarily mean that a technology might not be widely adopted.

“Economically, electric mopeds should not work in the market, but they do in China,” he said.

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