Will electric trucks dominate the roads of the future?

Will electric trucks dominate the roads of the future?

Battery-powered electric trucks could help make the transport sector more climate-friendly. © Chesky_W/ iStock

In order to limit climate change, freight transport on the roads must become climate neutral in the next few years. This is best achieved with battery-powered electric fleets, as researchers have now discovered. Accordingly, due to lower costs and better charging options, these are more sustainable than trucks with hydrogen or overhead line drives. If a nationwide charging network for e-trucks is in place by 2035, greenhouse gas emissions from freight transport could also reach net zero as planned.

The transport sector in this country is still a long way from being climate neutral. Twenty percent of all greenhouse gases emitted continue to be accounted for by him alone. In addition to cars and buses, trucks also have to make adjustments so that Germany can be climate neutral by 2045 as planned. But it is still unclear which drive is the best replacement for diesel and gasoline in trucks. You can choose between a battery-electric drive like in an e-car, a drive using hydrogen fuel cells and power supply via overhead lines, similar to a train.

Battery-electric trucks are ahead

In a recent report, the Öko-Institut in Freiburg compared the three options and determined which one has the greatest technical and economic potential for the future. In order to find out, the research team led by project manager Katharina Göckeler included various framework conditions and future assumptions in the analysis, including the development of energy prices and the expansion rates of public energy infrastructures such as charging stations, hydrogen filling stations or overhead lines.

This showed that in a direct comparison of the three different drives, battery-electric trucks are currently ahead, even if one calculates somewhat more pessimistically for recharging options and vehicle ranges. A big advantage is the cost. “The analysis shows that electric trucks pay off,” reports Göckeler. In comparison to hydrogen-powered trucks in particular, they are significantly cheaper – if only because there is still great uncertainty about hydrogen prices. According to the researchers, the market potential of the trucks powered by it could only increase if enough green hydrogen is available in the long term and the costs level off at a low level.

Expansion of the charging network necessary

According to the study, the only alternative drive type that can undercut the overall price of electric trucks are trolley trucks. But that is not enough to dominate the market in the future, as Göckeler and her colleagues report. In the long term, trucks with this drive will probably only be able to drive on a third of the German motorway network – i.e. 4,000 kilometers – because, according to various feasibility studies, the overhead line network cannot and should not be expanded beyond this proportion. This type of drive would also be unsuitable for trips off the highways due to the lack of overhead lines. Nevertheless, the Oeko-Institut estimates that overhead line trucks could still have a market share of around a third in the future and will therefore not become completely insignificant.

According to the scientists, these drives will not be able to keep up with the important role of battery-electric trucks. However, in order for them to actually achieve their predicted success as market leaders, according to the Oeko-Institut, a lot still needs to happen in the expansion of charging stations. Although a battery-electric truck could cover 55 percent of its energy needs in the depot before setting off, the rest must be replenished somewhere along the route. Of particular importance are so-called night charging systems (NCS), which charge 25 percent of the requirement overnight on tours lasting several days. In addition, megawatt charging systems (MCS) should enable the battery to be recharged during the driver’s 45-minute rest breaks, which he must take every 4.5 hours.

“We need a network of around 2,000 MCS charging points and around 40,000 NCS charging points along the federal motorway network,” said Göckeler. “Since MCS charging points in particular have a high power output and require a connection to the high-voltage network, planning for their construction must begin promptly now.” If such a network can be provided by 2035, new registrations of battery-electric trucks could rise to 100 percent. as the forecasts of the Öko-Institut show. This would gradually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and eventually reach the target of net zero by 2045. At the same time, electricity consumption for road freight transport would also fall from the current 173 terawatt hours (TWh) annually to 110 TWh. The reason is that battery-electric trucks operate more efficiently compared to those with combustion engines.

Source: Öko-Institut e. V. – Institute for Applied Ecology; Study: “StratES – scenarios for the electrification of road freight transport” (PDF)

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