MT caught up with DAF Trucks marketing manager Phil Moon at this year’s Freight in the City Expo to talk about alternative fuels.
Electric avenue

“DAF's approach is that we believe electric vehicles will play an important role, particularly in urban distribution, going forward,” said Moon.

“But they are not ready for the market yet. Yes, there are one or two available on the market, but we are at the start of the process which over the next five years will lead to vehicles which are much more urban-specific in application or which can enter zero-emission zones.

“So electric is definitely part of our longer term plan and our current design and development strategy.”

DAF is working on three electric vehicle field trials at the moment, all revealed at IAA Hannover in September: two pure electric and one hybrid.

One of these is a fully-electric DAF CF tractor unit developed in partnership with Dutch technology firm VDL Groep. The first unit has just entered operation in The Netherlands with a supermarket customer.

A second battery-electric DAF LF, designed at Leyland and featuring a Cummins-supplied driveline, is also in development for city distribution operations.

The third is a hybrid DAF CF tractor unit with a conventional diesel-powered driveline and an e-motor module developed by ZF. The vehicle can be driven for short distances in full-electric mode, switching to conventional fuel for longer distances, while also using regeneration technology to recoup energy to charge the batteries.

“The field trials are at a stage where we learn how well they can work in the marketplace and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” says Moon. “Then after that we will look at whether they need to evolve before being taken to low-level production.”

A production date is yet to be announced for the new trucks.

FITC 2018

“But clearly the market needs to have some zero-emission capable vehicles in readiness for the mid 2020s when zero-emission zones come into being. Operators need to have some sort of lead-in.

“As much as it's important we test and research these vehicles, it's also important for operators to know there will be zero-emission vehicles available in the next few years.

“We will learn as we trial them in ever increasing numbers over a short period of time.”

ICE has a role to play

Moon still believes for long distance and out-of-town distribution, the conventional combustion engine will play a very important part, particularly for heavier trucks.

“With cars, you could envisage fairly long distance travel with opportunity charging, but a big heavy truck would need a massive battery pack to go any sort of distance and charging would be difficult. There's no real alternative to the ICE at present,” he said.

“Obviously there are people running gas vehicles. DAF has looked at gas but we don't think it is a long-term opportunity."

Phil Moonnew

Phil Moon, DAF

However one area DAF does see a big opportunity for the road transport sector to significantly reduce its environmental impact is through the latest generation of ‘drop-in’ fuels.

These include gas-to-liquid (GTL), produced by Shell and sold in the UK through Certas Energy, and hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), distributed by Green Biofuels and marketed as Green D.

GTL is a refinery process to convert natural gas into high quality liquid products that would otherwise be made from crude oil.

HVO is a form of renewable diesel produced from waste fats, vegetables and oils and transformed into biofuel by hydrogenation.

Raising awareness

“We're very keen to open people's minds to the idea of drop-in fuels,” said Moon. “Because there is a lack of awareness that they are available and they can be used today. The whole point of them being drop-in is that you can start running a truck tomorrow without any modifications or change to service intervals, and with no warranty implications.

“You have an easy solution to improving [road transport’s] impact on the environment.”

DAF has been working with foodservice operator Brakes, which is running its Park Royal depot trucks on GTL and seen a 47% reduction in NOX emissions.

“Other companies as well are starting to work with GTL,” Moon added.

“The other fuel is HVO, which has the same clean burning properties to improve air quality, but is made from renewable resources and can provide over a 90% reduction in well-to-wheel CO2, which is massive. This is more than biomethane,” he said.

“There is no equivalent [alternative fuel] in terms of net reduction in CO2 that I'm aware of.”

Power Electrics, supplier of power generators, is using HVO in its HGV fleet to power generators it provides for music festivals.

It receives the HVO via Green Biofuels in mobile fuel bowsers and bulk storage fuel tanks.

Other pros

As well as environmental benefits, drop-in fuels have also shown some operational perks for operators.

In an urban stop-start driving environment, some Euro-6 vehicles may require forced DPF regeneration whereby the driver needs to stop the vehicle and go through a cycle taking between 30 and 50 minutes.

“At Brakes this was around every two weeks and since moving to GTL this hasn't been needed. It frees up the driver, frees up the truck and actually allows them to control the vehicle movement better,” said Moon.

Brakes Econic

He adds that as it is also completely biodegradable, it doesn't cause any environmental damage if it's spilt and washes into the drains, nor does it create a smelly refuelling environment. “This really got the drivers on board,” says Moon.

There could also potentially be less maintenance required of vehicles using cleaner drop-in fuels, however this won’t be known for another five to 10 years of use.

Level playing field

Despite the environmental benefits of GTL and HVO, drop-in fuels are yet to become a mainstream choice for operators.

Moon believes more support is needed from government to help stimulate the market, and to remove any cost barrier for operators.

For example, if a fuel duty differential was applied in the same way it is for natural gas, then it could level the playing field for drop-in fuels.

“There is a need for the government, the Treasury and local authorities to actually take note of the opportunity drop-in fuels can bring,” said Moon.

With the right support, Moon is confident GTL and HVO can play a role in mitigating the emissions impact of the road transport sector.

“By opening up a dialogue with operators and putting them in touch with suppliers, we now have a number of people starting trials with hundreds of vehicles.

“That's the beauty of it. There are no limitations with drop-in fuels [in terms of investing new fleet and infrastructure], so it can be rolled out very quickly.”

Read more