Towards a fossil-free future for trucks: Spilling the TEA

In English

It is clear that the transportation sector must reduce its carbon footprint and transition away from fossil fuels. However, there are two main questions to be addressed: what is the best alternative for heavy-duty trucks, and what sustainable options are already available?

Currently, there are multiple alternative technologies accessible, including electric vehicles (EV), hydrogen fuel cells, and liquid biogas (LBG). Each of these options comes with its distinct benefits and drawbacks regarding development, infrastructure, costs, and environmental effects across their life cycle. It’s still unclear which of these technologies and fuel types will become dominant and ultimately replace diesel counterparts. One of the deciding factors is the regulation, that EU is planning to implement.

The European Union has set an ambitious goal of being nearly carbon-neutral with a 90% reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas emission by 2050, as part of its European Green Deal programme that aims to make the EU a climate-neutral and circular economy. Since more than 50% of intra-European freight is currently transported by road, the EU is proposing measures such as new taxation and incentives for low-emission trucks that would help to reduce emissions. These EU targets and measures align with the evolving corporate landscape, where companies are motivated to integrate sustainability into their strategies. Consequently, it’s crucial for the transportation sector to not only be more sustainable but also economically efficient to meet today’s demands.

Why the transition to alternatives hasn’t occurred yet?

Alternative fuels such as LBG, hydrogen, and electricity have shown great potential to decarbonise the road freight transport sector in recent literature. LBG, derived from organic waste, electricity, and hydrogen sourced from renewable energy, has garnered attention for its potential to significantly reduce emissions while simultaneously having the potential to reach economic feasibility in the near future. However, the widespread adoption of these alternative fuels faces challenges, including infrastructure development and upfront costs. Despite their potential and near feasibility, there are lingering questions about why the transition to these alternatives hasn’t occurred more rapidly.

The challenges to widespread adoption are significant. Infrastructure development, such as charging stations for electric vehicles and biogas refuelling stations, remains a critical consideration. Additionally, the upfront costs associated with transitioning to new technologies pose a barrier for many fleet operators. Moreover, concerns about the range and performance of alternative fuel vehicles compared to traditional diesel trucks, especially for long-haul journeys, further complicate the transition. Overcoming these hurdles will require collaborative efforts from governments, industries, and research institutions to invest in infrastructure development, incentivise adoption, and continue innovation in alternative fuel technologies. Only through such concerted actions can we pave the way towards a fossil-free future for trucks, ensuring both environmental sustainability and economic viability in the long run.

Overcoming adoption challenges

Techno-economic analysis (TEA) provides a comprehensive framework for evaluating the potential of alternative fuels in the context of heavy-duty trucking. By integrating technical, economic, and environmental factors, this analytical approach enables stakeholders to gain a holistic understanding of the feasibility and implications of transitioning to alternative fuels.

From a technical perspective, techno-economic analysis examines the performance characteristics of alternative fuel technologies, such as energy efficiency, power output, range, and reliability to determine their suitability for different trucking applications. Understanding the technical aspects is crucial for assessing the practicality and reliability of alternative fuel solutions in real-world transportation scenarios.

On the economic front, techno-economic analysis evaluates the cost implications of adopting alternative fuels compared to traditional diesel. This involves analysing the upfront investment costs, operational expenses, and total cost of ownership over the lifespan of vehicles. By quantifying the economic benefits and risks associated with alternative fuels, stakeholders can make informed decisions regarding investment, fleet management, and business strategies.

Moreover, techno-economic analysis considers the environmental impacts of alternative fuels, including greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, and resource depletion. By conducting life cycle assessments, stakeholders can assess the environmental sustainability of alternative fuel options and identify opportunities to minimise environmental footprints throughout the fuel production, distribution, and utilisation processes.

In essence, techno-economic analysis serves as a valuable tool for guiding policy making, investment decisions, and technology development efforts aimed at promoting the adoption of sustainable fuel solutions in the heavy-duty trucking sector. By providing a systematic framework for evaluating the technical, economic, and environmental aspects of alternative fuels, techno-economic analysis enables stakeholders to navigate the complexities of transitioning towards a more sustainable and resilient transportation system.

Clara Rajalehto
Doctoral researcher

Industrial Management, School of Technology and Innovations
University of Vaasa


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