Thanks to low operating costs, battery and trolley trucks will pay off in the future even without government aid, despite higher acquisition costs for freight forwarders. E-trucks could therefore dominate new registrations in 2030, and the switch to battery and trolley vehicles can make a significant contribution to achieving the German government’s 2030 climate targets for the transport sector.
“Battery-electric trucks will be significantly cheaper and more climate-friendly than new diesel-powered vehicles in ten years’ time, even at moderate CO2 prices for almost all applications,” explains Julius Jöhrens, head of a comparative analysis now presented by ifeu (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg) in the “My eRoads” research project. Powering the battery trucks via overhead lines could further improve the cost balance and open up additional systemic advantages. If costs are the only consideration, freight forwarders will therefore only purchase e-trucks for transport within Germany in 2030.
A comparison of the climate gas emissions of different drive systems for 2030 also shows that battery-electric trucks can cut CO2 emissions by around half compared with diesel trucks – including electricity generation and truck production. About one-third of the remaining CO2 emissions are then attributable to vehicle production. The use of overhead lines can significantly reduce the required battery sizes of the trucks and thus tend to further improve the climate footprint.
Climate benefits on the long haul
Overhead line technology is particularly interesting for use on long-distance routes. However, the use of hydrogen in fuel cell trucks is also being discussed there. In a direct comparison with battery and overhead line trucks, however, fuel cell trucks are economically competitive only at extremely low hydrogen prices. These are only predicted in optimistic scenarios for H2 imports from wind- and sun-rich regions outside Europe. However, CO2 emissions are only lower than for trolley trucks even if the hydrogen for the trucks is generated almost exclusively from renewable sources – in view of high H2 demand from other sectors, a requirement that is likely to be difficult to meet in practice.
The results of the study clearly show that hydrogen produced with the German electricity mix will not be able to compete with diesel technology in terms of cost or CO2 emissions in trucks in 2030. The use of fuel cell trucks is therefore a medium-term bet on the future availability of cheap and fully renewable imported hydrogen.
Government action required above all for infrastructure development
So what does this mean for the future? Trucking companies are likely to almost always opt for a battery electric vehicle in 2030 from a cost perspective. Fuel cell trucks, due to their clear cost disadvantage, are only likely to come into play where the use of battery trucks fails due to practical considerations – how often this occurs is partly in the hands of the state itself via infrastructure development.
“Technology and costs are clearly moving in the direction of electric trucks. The state’s task now is to push ahead with the expansion of stationary charging infrastructure on the main routes and to examine where this can be usefully supplemented by an overhead line network. Then heavy-duty transport can make a significant contribution to the climate targets in the transport sector,” says study director Julius Jöhrens.
Nevertheless, “Even electric trucks can at most halve the CO2 emissions of a truck in 2030 in a life cycle assessment. In addition, the conversion of the truck fleet will take time. So to actually achieve the climate targets we have set, we must continue to avoid unnecessary truck transports and shift significantly more transports to rail in the long term.”
The study “Comparative analysis of the potential of drive technologies for trucks in the time horizon 2030” is a sub-report within the project “Electrification potential of freight and bus transport – My eRoads”. It was prepared by ifeu together with PTV Transport Consult. The analysis was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment. Download the study: www.ifeu.de
Read this and other articles on the topic of Mobility 4.0 electric-networked-autonomous in the current eMove360° magazine in german language – free download PDF.