Freight in the City joined forces with Volvo to deliver a webinar focusing on long-haul decarbonisation.

James McGeachie, Zemo Partnership technical director, kicked off with a look at the opportunities and challenges operators face.

He said uptake of zero-emission commercial vehicles was rising but HGV operators continue to face obstacles.

“The simple fact is HGVs are a bigger challenge to electrify in terms of the use cycle, the journeys and distances travelled and the massive payloads.

“To illustrate that, a 44-tonne truck would probably requires a 1MWh battery, roughly constituting a five-tonne mass,” he explained.

McGeachie pointed to government incentives to help operators make the transition, including the Plug-in Grant offering bursaries of up to £25,000.

He acknowledged industry criticism of the scheme’s complexity, but said the government is committed to improve its availability, following critical feedback from the DfT’s zero-emission consultation.

Operators can also take advantage of the recently announced £200m, three-year Zero-Emission Road Freight Trial, which will demonstrate zero-emission HGVs and the associated charging infrastructure, he added.

McGeachie also hailed recent government moves to extend the 2035 phase out date for certain heavy duty diesel trucks, such as those carrying abnormal loads, which he said indicates greater government recognition of the transition challenges operators face.

Focus on well-to-wheel emissions

Volvo product manager John Comer said Volvo plans to arrive at net zero by 2040. However progress depends on technological developments going forward, he said, adding that Volvo disagrees with the current technological path to net zero, which he said is too narrowly focused on zero-tailpipe emissions.

Instead he called for a greater focus on cutting carbon emissions across the entire manufacturing and operational journey, “from well to wheel - not just from tank to tailpipe.”

Comer welcomed the DfT’s recent decision to increase weight limits by two tonnes for zero-emission vehicles, to compensate for battery weight, but expressed disappointment at there being no changes to axle weights and no allowance for weight limit increases beyond 44 tonnes.

He said the Volvo FL and FE range, primarily for short haul and distribution, would definitely benefit from the additional two tonnes in terms of additional payload.

Payload complexity

However, he warned that with axle weights unchanged, manufacturers will have to find ways to redistribute the loads on larger vehicles, with a focus on putting more weight on the front axle and adopting the tridem design, which he said will bring its own challenges.

He pointed to the loss of payload on larger vehicles, such as 34 tonners, as an example, which he warned will deter construction transport hauliers in particular from making the switch from diesel.

The weight limits also mean Volvo is looking at rescaling its electric 44-tonner down to a 42-tonner.

He explained: “Our drive line is designed towards a 44-tonne maximum. So the solution we're working towards is to move back to a 42-tonne combination with a 300-kilometre range to work this into the current distribution systems already are out there today.”

Charging ahead

Sandor Daretta, global business development manager at electric charging specialist ABB, said that with 90% of electric commercial fleet charging taking likely to take place at the depot, operators need to ensure they choose a flexible system with a spectrum of charging powers, that can meet the needs of their entire fleet.

He added that operators should also consider return on investment schemes, such as opening their charging system to other operators, as well as using dynamic routeing and battery energy storage systems to help conserve energy.

Daretta said moves to develop rapid chargers was continuing apace, adding that ABB is part of a taskforce that includes Scania, Volvo and MAN that is developing a game changing global Megawatt Charging Standard (MCS) for long haul distribution.

“Megawatt charging will be the enabler for long haul transport - it can deliver up to 3MW, meaning you could charge your truck within six minutes. This will make a huge difference.”

The technology will be rolled out on Sweden’s roads next year, under the E-Charge project, which will see long haul BEV trucks trialling a network of newly installed megawatt charging stations.

Larger pilots are planned in Europe and the UK, Daratta added, and as he signed off he urged British operators interested in taking part to contact him.

A lively question and answer session followed with queries on the future of Euro-7, vehicle price parity, shared commercial charging infrastructures, axle weight limits and much more.

You can watch the whole webinar online free of charge.