Achieving A Low Carbon Future For Road Freight Transport

Publication Date15 June 2021
SubjectEnvironment, Transport, Energy and Natural Resources, Energy Law, Environmental Law, Oil, Gas & Electricity, Rail, Road & Cycling
Law FirmShakespeare Martineau
AuthorMr Mark Bartholomew

The drive to decarbonise is now at the top of the political agenda in many countries around the world and the transport sector, which is responsible for a substantial proportion of emissions, is only at the beginning of the decarbonisation journey. This is particularly challenging to road freight transport which still relies on the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine. Electric vehicles may not be the answer for heavy goods vehicles and innovation is required to develop workable solutions in this important segment.

Mark Bartholomew spoke to Simon Brewster and Nick Owen from Dolphin N2 about the alternatives to electric vehicles, including the recuperated split cycle engine being developed by their company and the potential contribution that such technology has to make in driving down carbon levels.

What are the existing challenges with electrification?

Although batteries and electrified roads have been demonstrated in use with heavy-duty goods vehicles, they are not without their challenges.

Simon explained that, for vehicles making long haul journeys, batteries can be inconvenient and result in the loss of load capacity. In order to accommodate the batteries, vehicles have to compromise payload, resulting in more vehicles being needed to shift the same amount of goods. For this reason, batteries typically work better for urban deliveries over shorter distances. Battery-powered trucks would also require a network of heavy-duty charging stations.

An alternative might be electrified roads involving either overhead lines to which the truck connects via a pantograph or a series of electric cables and electromagnetic transmitters buried underneath the road surface, which generate electromagnetic fields and in turn charge a vehicle's battery as it travels. Although this would reduce the size of batteries required and offer a solution to the large charging ports that would otherwise be needed for charging trucks, it would still require expensive infrastructure to be built on all main roads.

What are the alternatives to battery-powered vehicles?

Hydrogen fuel cell

One of the existing alternatives that is seen as viable for the freight industry, is the hydrogen fuel-cell. Hydrogen refueling is a more familiar process (it is closer to petrol or diesel in terms of time taken) and therefore it could use existing forecourts, although new and widespread infrastructure would be needed to dispense it.

Hydrogen and fuel cells remain costly and economic viability on a...

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