Alternative Powertrains as a Tipping Point

Nov 13, 2018

Alternative powertrains are on the rise. They might be a gamechanger for shippers, manufacturers, and other stakeholders alike.
But how can the shift to clean and sustainable powertrains be managed by the commercial vehicle and components industry? By incorporating everything from fully electric heavy-duty trucks, to the best-in-class electric chassis, to the challenges and opportunities of electrification and alternative fuels.

Freight Transport as Part of the Integrated Energy Transition

Bad news first: Germany isn’t overly successful in fulfilling the climate goals set for 2030. Andreas Kuhlmann, CEO of the German Energy Agency (dena) spoke about the role of freight transport in the integrated energy transition. He noted that heavy-duty vehicles are part of the problem – particularly because of the increase of GHG-emissions. But an intersectoral approach is needed to solve this problem. The step into next-generation mobility threatens to overwhelm OEMs– a dialogue with cities, politics, etc. is desperately needed.

And, according to Kuhlmann, there is no such thing as the ultimate powertrain to fulfil our climate goals: BEVs still raise questions about its functionality on various use cases in logistics and they won’t reduce carbon dioxide by the amount needed. Overhead hybrids could help on certain routes and could contribute a lot to reducing CO2. But a dena study shows that 2030 is too close for overhead hybrids to really make a difference. Fuel cells might be an option for the future but are still too expensive. And CNG is a solution for short distances. That leaves us with the only holistic solution on the market: LNG. But, as Kuhlmann had to admit, while bio-LNG might be a big factor in reducing emissions, the LNG currently in use does not reduce emissions as much as needed.

In the end, Kuhlmann pointed out that we need to combine different strategies instead of searching for the one ultimate solution: A combination of these alternative powertrains, a push for electric vehicles, a big effort to reduce the overall traffic volume – this is what is needed in order to fulfil the climate goals.

The Challenges in eMobility for Commercial Vehicles

Dr. Götz von Esebeck of Traton presented the obstacles EVs have to climb to become a real alternative for commercial vehicles. Since commercial vehicles are an investment for businesses, questions such as the costs of batteries and trucks, the offers of fitting vehicles, the pressure by competitors in the market and more play a major factor in the decision-making of entrepreneurs. The problem: Even though there are several use cases for electrified trucks on short distances, they lack over long distances – at least for now.

Esebeck highlighted that the predictions on e-mobility in logistics were too conservative: The costs for batteries are dropping at a significant rate and high power charging with one megawatt creates new uses cases.

New energies, new technologies, and new materials enable the decarbonisation and minimalisation of emissions. Even the TCO parity for pure BEV-solutions might come soon. But CO2-regulation still might be the main driver behind future innovations, thus creating better products for the customers.

The Refrigerated 40t E-Truck

ALDI, one of the world’s most successful supermarket chains, is working hard to develop one of these better products. Andreas Kremer of Aldi Süd presented the company’s 40t refrigerated e-truck. After Aldi started its first – unsuccessful – tests on CNG in 2009, the company started new tests in 2018 and developed its electric truck. It is loaded with green energy, which allows it to drive emission-free, is equipped with a multi-temperature underfloor refrigeration system, a 280 kW engine and a range of up to 120 kilometers.

Aldi E-Truck
Aldi E-Truck

Redesigning Commercial Vehicles

Rodrigo Soffner of Meritor explained how a reconfigured chassis offers the opportunity to redesign the manufacturing and design of commercial vehicles thus increasing the vehicles’ efficiency. He presented three solutions:

  1. The e-axel, an electric axis which drives the truck or bus. This allows manufacturers to downsize the vehicles’ motors
  2. An electric suspension which increases the comfort of vehicles and could be extremely helpful for military or emergency vehicles
  3. Electric motors at the wheels, which enables a new generation of brakes which are smaller, lighter and optimized for regenerative breaking.

Combining the Strengths of OEMs Silicon Valley Technology

Jim Castelaz of Motiv Power Systems stressed that manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel and design completely new battery packs for commercial vehicles. Tesla showed how it should be done by taking and redesigning laptop cells rather than building their own battery from scratch. Since then, the automotive industry has reduced the cost of battery packs for cars by sheer mass – a method that can’t be fully transferred to commercial vehicles. OEMs and manufacturers should take and optimize these existing car battery packs for commercial vehicles, just like Tesla did, and instead focus on software. Since batteries in logistics can’t be scaled by sheer mass, innovative and advanced software – for example for system or battery management – is the drive for the mass adoption of electrification in commercial vehicles.

A New Era of Creativity

Lastly, Denis Sverdlov of Arrival presented their model to enable alternative powertrains and allowing a new era of creativity. Arrival wants new players to get started and existing players to get ahead by offering an end-to-end solution, a plug-and-play method for system integration to integrate various different software of the companies, a unique body forming technology and an accessible and transparent pricing model.

Source: Capri23auto on Pixabay