The European Union’s proposed targets for reducing Heavy Duty Vehicle (HDV) emissions, recently endorsed by the ENVI Committee, outline a reduction plan of 45% by 2030 and 90% by 2040. While admirably ambitious, the feasibility of these targets is subject to scrutiny, especially in the absence of a legislative mechanism that allows a full spectrum of clean technologies to contribute to these goals. It is critical to establish a framework that allows for transport operators and vehicle manufacturers to address the unique challenges of the HDV sector.
Grid Capacity and Infrastructure.
With the Battery Electric Vehicle ecosystem still developing, there are already concerns about the grid's capacity to support the high demands of mega-watt charging required for a fleet-wide transition across Europe.
Consider a truck transporting goods from Greece to Belgium, through North Macedonia, and Serbia. The latter two, being non-EU member states, are not bound by EU rules on alternative fuels infrastructure. During this journey – will the infrastructure be in place to allow for charging? Within the EU, reaching the CO2 reduction target by 2030, would require 21,000 – 35,000 charging points.
The rule mandating return to the Member State of establishment every eight weeks will pose challenges for electric HDVs in finding adequate charging facilities on certain routes. Mandatory rest times will result in peak charging needs along those same routes. The power demand for megawatt charging of one heavy duty truck is equal the power demand of approximately 2,000 homes. Pressure on grid capacity threatens to be insurmountable, with fossil power plants providing the needed backup energy.
Is the approach to emissions reduction targets ambitious enough? The traditional tailpipe perspective, focusing solely on emissions during vehicle operation, disregards emissions during sourcing, production, electricity generation, recycling and disposal phases. It is limited when it comes to evaluating the environmental impact of HDVs – and ignores the net-positive environmental impact of biofuels like renewable biomethane.
Legislation must also consider the risks of offloading its environmental challenges onto less developed countries, especially when considering the life-cycle issues involved from mining to transport and end-of-life. Is the regulatory framework currently capable of dealing with such nuances? Instead of storing up problems for the future, should we not aim to provide global solutions based on technologies developed in Europe?"
The Rules of the Road
The HDV sector has unique operational requirements that differ significantly from passenger vehicles. HDVs are subject to regulations that ensure driver safety and well-being. Internal combustion engine HDVs provide advantages in terms of driving range and refuelling times yet to be matched by battery electric HDVs.
The Need for a Holistic Technology Mechanism
The proposal overlooks the potential of carbon-negative fuels like renewable biomethane in reducing emissions within the road transport sector. Introducing a Carbon Correction Factor (CCF), which adjusts CO2 emissions based on fuel type, could provide a more holistic evaluation. This approach would encourage innovation, foster healthy competition, and ensure a balanced regulatory environment.
Renewable biomethane is a carbon-negative fuel, which not only reduces emissions but also actively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The infrastructure for biomethane is in place and can immediately meet the need to fuel HDVs. Unlike other alternatives, it can be used in existing vehicles without costly upgrades or fleet replacement.
As the European Commission prepares to assess the advantages of the life cycle assessment in the coming years, implementing a CCF will allow the use of renewable fuels to contribute to immediate fleet decarbonisation without unnecessary delays.
Our decarbonisation aspirations should be grounded in the feasibility of technology, environmental impact, and sector-specific challenges. This way, we can promote an environmentally resilient future without compromising the robustness and efficiency of the EU's mobility and supply chains.
In partnership with
This article was produced in partnership with Hexagon Composite. Hexagon is a supplier of clean energy solutions, headquartered in Norway with 23 international locations, including the world’s most important clean energy markets in Europe, Asia, and North America.