We have all but completed our work on Off Highway vehicles which has been integrated by Caterpillar into the demonstration of an AT725 quarry vehicle, capable of a 28% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reduction. This work has relevance across the whole Off-Highway fleet and has proven the potential to achieve the 30% efficiency challenge we set ourselves in this segment.
We have also completed work in the On-highway domain – looking particularly at the UK’s Heavy Goods Vehicles, how these are used in the “real world”, and how different decarbonisation options might play out in the UK’s future energy system. Publications in these areas are currently in preparation for later this summer.
It’s clear from our work that zero tailpipe emission HGVs are credible, and indeed, as we move towards a net zero energy system, will be necessary if targets are to be met. Whether electric or hydrogen based vehicle solutions are the most attractive for the HGV segment may depend on infrastructure and technology developments elsewhere in transport, not only passenger cars, but also vans and medium goods vehicles – the continued developments and cost reduction of batteries; the availability of the charging infrastructure; the availability of cost effective “green” hydrogen and so on. The split between vehicle costs, generation costs (electricity or hydrogen) and infrastructure costs, and whether these fall at a national or local level is different between different technology solutions – requiring a great deal of thought to be given to the appropriate market incentives and structures to encourage investment and market adoption.
With our view of current technology development pathways, the implementation of Carbon, Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS) is a prerequisite for enough low-cost hydrogen to be produced in the UK for hydrogen fuelled transport to become a mainstream reality. CCUS allows Steam Methane Reformation (SMR) based hydrogen production at an attractive cost with around 90% or 95% of the CO2 captured. CCUS also unlocks the use of purpose grown biomass to create negative emissions. If CCUS is not available, then either (green) hydrogen imports will need to be sourced or significant reductions in the cost of electrolysis will be needed. At present these cost reductions are not on the horizon at the level needed. As an aside, hopes that direct air capture technologies will help us get to net zero are dashed if there is no CCUS.
While zero tailpipe solutions develop, there is a good economic case for moving towards electrification HGV powertrains via progressively more hybridised vehicles. For example, plug-in HGVs can use a low emission gas engine as a range extender. Such HGVs, together with improvements in factory to door logistics planning, may prove to be vital stepping stones on the decarbonisation journey but HGVs will almost certainly need to be virtually emissions free for the UK to achieve net zero by 2050.
Some of the questions in the HGV future landscape may be resolved by the market uptake of passenger Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) and Plug in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs). If policy makers continue to encourage the take up of electrically driven passenger vehicles, and consumers start to adopt en mass, then charging infrastructure will be built, battery technologies will continue to evolve, and economy of scale benefits will accrue.
The ETI Consumer Vehicles and Energy Infrastructure (CVEI) project, led by TRL, has looked at mass market consumer attitudes to BEVs, PHEVs and standard (internal combustion engine) cars, what might hamper market adoption, and how consumer behaviour may impact the energy system. The results are encouraging and are being published. Beyond the early adopters, mainstream consumers seem generally happy to move from fossil fuels to electric, as long as their needs are met. Put simply, most consumers are not bothered about the details of the drivetrain – provided the vehicle does what they need it to do. Purchase cost and cost of ownership are important, and cost attractiveness is a necessary condition for adoption, but so is vehicle utility. Range anxiety is real, but consumers are surprisingly comfortable with “outsourcing” the range problem to an extent. As long as the vehicle is fully charged when it is needed and is capable of around 300 miles before recharging, and as long as there’s an adequate (fast) charging infrastructure available, then around 90% of consumers are happy to switch to electric. Whilst this poses challenges for the current vehicle costs, their range, and the availability of charging points (especially at home and destinations), it opens the way to a managed charging solution of vehicles. Hence demand shaping to match electricity generation supply capability. In other words, by using some “smarts” in the system, we should be able to avoid needing to build a lot of standby generation capacity to cope with the 6pm demand surge as everyone plugs in to charge.
We can’t say with certainty how the future transport technologies will develop. There are many variables at play, some energy related and many not – increasing urbanisation, the importance of air quality, the investment of global OEMs in particular solutions, the growth of AI, transport services which displace vehicle ownership (e.g. uber) and much more.
From a least cost energy system technology standpoint for the UK however, it looks as though BEV and PHEV passenger vehicles are getting closer to mass adoption, there may be need for electric-gas hybrid HGVs until CCUS enables hydrogen production at a scale large enough to supply HGV applications, or until battery technology advances (together with infrastructure investment) unlocks full electric HGVs.