Decarbonising the transport industry

Video Source

With NZ Trucking Magazine’s Dave McCoid

The transport industry is changing, with decarbonisation at the centre of this. Mission Zero’s Fleet Management Networking Group recently enjoyed a presentation about this by trucking expert and Editorial Director of New Zealand Trucking Magazine Dave McCoid, led by Resilienz’s Lindsay Wood.

Watch this recording of the session to learn some of Dave’s insights and predictions for the future.

The session followed up on a presentation Dave gave to the group around the same time last year. The rate of change within the past 12 months has been exponential, Dave suggests, with alternatively propelled trucks beginning to come into the spotlight for innovation and efficiency. 

However, the agility of regulation to respond to this pace, the feasibility and availability of charging infrastructure, and New Zealand’s unique trucking configurations and driving laws will need to change if we are to have any chance of a smooth transition to alternative fuel systems for trucks.

Ultimately, consumers will need to bear the associated cost of some of these changes and/or reconsider their expectations around delivery timeframes. 

Some key takeouts from the presentation:

The rate of change is much faster than most perceive.

The trajectory of change since 2014 – ten years ago – and imagined situation in 2034, especially given the likely impact of AI, is hard to fathom. And in some ways it’s happening so quickly it’s hard to see. But if we look at the past 12 months we can track some important milestones.

For the first time ever, Europe’s premiere 47-year-old International Truck of the Year competition included an alternatively propelled truck (the Volvo FH Electric Heavy Truck) in its contender list, which subsequently won the top prize. Availability – a criteria set for the Australasian version of this competition – knocked Volvo out of the running in our region (it is still too expensive, charging facilities are not yet widespread and the production run remains small), however the bar has been set.

With regards to charging infrastructure, Europe has started running serious trials on megawatt charging, reporting a rapid turnaround rate of 10%-100% charge within 45 minutes (the length of a driver’s break in this region). This follows the installation of around 1500 high-capacity chargers (not ‘megawatt’) across Europe as part of a collaborative effort between Daimler, Volvo and Trayton Group 3-4 years ago. However, the question of how to generate electricity, get it on the grid, store it and send it to where trucks can receive it remains.

Specific to New Zealand, our first hydrogen refuelling station – constructed by next generation energy company Hiringa in South Auckland – opened in April 2024, and in 2027 we’ll start to see hydrogen trucks turning up en masse. For now we have two Hyzon hydrogen trucks working under evaluation for TR Group, which should soon be followed by a further 18 trucks, assuming success. A Hyundai hydrogen truck is working admirably for NZ Post in Auckland, and three hydrogen combustion trucks have surpassed the field-trial stage at HWR Richardson in Southland.

Trucks are just a response to demand.

Inventory holding costs can be crippling to businesses. Moving a product from the point of manufacture to the point of sale, and arriving just in time to sell it, is considered to be good practice for savings on these costs. Multimodal solutions are how transport works, however New Zealand’s rail system is far below ideal to meet consumer demands for pace and cost of delivery. Trucks, therefore, have become the warehouses – on wheels – of the economy. 93 per cent of all freight, at some point, is carried by truck. In essence, consumer demand is what’s primarily driving the use of trucks.

People need to change their behaviours.

A fast delivery is unlikely to be the most efficient. Being patient around the pace of delivery gives the national trucking fleet a chance to build up, and carry, more goods in one run. Given the numerous challenges of carbon emission reductions, lowering our expectations of a fast delivery turnaround time would, hands down, be the easiest to implement.

Like it or not: change is coming. But let’s do it sensibly.

The growing consensus amongst industry experts is to avoid the rush to alternatively propelled trucks in favour of prioritising a behind-the-scenes infrastructural transition. Innovations in diesel technology offer a viable, economic, available, useable and as-clean-as-you-can-get-it combustion fuel stop-gap, buying time for confidence, access and feasibility around alternatives to improve. 

In any case, it’s highly likely that the future of land based transport will be based on a mixed range of energy provisions according to what’s best – cleanest, cheapest, most accessible – for the job and the region. Daimler executives are suggesting that transport methods could be alternated to suit specific parameters. For example battery electric vehicles (BEVs) might take on deliveries of under 300km, while hydrogen propelled vehicles are used to service longer distances.

Ultimately, the suggestion is that we’re going to see a transition away from our current ubiquitous, scalable and incredibly easy-to-refuel form of transport to something much more complex. 

In other words, hold on to your steering wheels, we’ve got a tricky road ahead!

Former truck driver Dave McCoid is New Zealand Trucking Magazine’s Editorial Director, with 27 years under his belt in the industry. Trucks have been the dominating passion in Dave’s life since day dot, and the road transport industry has dominated his working life. He is part-owner of the magazine and can often be found recording truck-related podcasts, which are published on the New Zealand Trucking website.

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