No silver bullet for a sustainable future

No silver bullet for a sustainable future

While DAF is actively exploring and even testing hydrogen combustion engines, it would be a huge mistake to throw away all the benefits of the combustion engine. Ron Borsboom, executive director product development at DAF, tells GIANENRICO GRIFFINI that hydrogen is only one part of DAF’s activities within the field of sustainability …

Although DAF hasn’t always been considered a trendsetter in future technologies within the European truck industry, there is no denying that the Dutch manufacturer is spending a lot of R&D efforts on alternative powertrains. The CF Electric tractor for mainly inner-city supermarket deliveries was one of the first full-electric trucks to be commercialized. Since then, it has also become available in a three-axle configuration that enables refuse collection operations, for example. DAF has just announced that a fully electric LF truck will enter production in the European spring this year, illustrating its firm belief in the future of electric-powered vehicles.

Not a bed of roses

According to Borsboom, fully electric vehicles are a feasible solution for specific applications in which payload and daily mileage are limited, and the trucks can return to their home base regularly for charging. “Although battery technology development is making good progress in energy density, one must not forget that they are still heavy and expensive, and that a public infrastructure for charging is still lacking. Charging stations will surely be realised by private parties. What I’m getting at is the overall network behind this. Will electricity be sufficiently available to meet all our needs? I seriously doubt it,” he says.

No ‘one size fits all’

DAF has always insisted that there is no “one size fits all” solution on the road to a sustainable future. “That is still our vision,” confirms Borsboom. “For urban applications, fully electric vehicles are a good option and, for vehicles that must operate both in and outside of urban areas, hybrid technology is a realistic way to go. Currently, we have several of these hybrid trucks operating as part of a field test with selected customers, and their feedback is very positive, as hybrid technology offers the best of both worlds: zero emissions in city centres and a long range, as well as maximum flexibility, thanks to the modern and efficient diesel engine.”

Mr Diesel, I presume

Given his long and vast experience in diesel technology development – not only with trucks but also in the nautical business – Borsboom is often referred to as Mr Diesel. He admits that this makes him proud. “The diesel engine was a fantastic invention and is still a great engine today. It’s an engine that offers unmatched efficiency, reliability and durability. It hurts me that public opinion sees it negatively, ignoring the industry’s immense efforts to make it cleaner and cleaner and cleaner. Its image is unfortunately not in line with the facts.

“To meet the European Green Deal requirements and the truck industry’s intention to refrain from using fossil fuels as of 2040, the combustion engine of the future will run on new generations of fuel or, for instance, hydrogen. We should never throw out the concept of the combustion engine – that would be a big mistake,” he warns.

Taking the entire chain into consideration

The European Green Deal has tasked the European truck industry with reducing its CO2 emissions by 15% in 2025 and even 30% by 2030. Borsboom cautions that these objectives are very challenging.

“Thanks to tremendous technical effort over the past 20 years, the truck industry has achieved a 1% CO2 emission reduction on average per year. And now we need to increase that to 2,5% per year up until 2025 and ensure annual reductions of 3% from 2025 until 2030. So, we will have to produce electric and hybrid drivelines on a larger scale, and it looks like the legislation will require 20% of the production to be emission-free. By the way, if we want to consider our planet, it is inevitable that at some point we will have to adopt the well-to-wheel approach instead of the tank-to-wheel approach,” he maintains.

Hydrogen has good potential

Hydrogen is one of the most promising routes to achieving zero-emission powertrains for long haulage transport when using wind or solar power to produce it. Like other truck manufacturers, DAF is exploring fuel cell technologies powered by hydrogen, but in addition, it is also investigating the potential of hydrogen to fuel a combustion engine.

“A fuel cell doesn’t have transient capabilities,” explains Borsboom. “In other words, it is not able to accelerate and decelerate. And therefore, when using fuel cells, buffering energy by a set of batteries is also needed. A combustion engine offers the required transient capabilities, is less sensitive to hydrogen quality, and doesn’t require huge cooling packages, unlike fuel cell technology.

“We have the prototype up and running in our testing environments, and our initial findings are looking good. Mind you: it will still take years before this new technology has the kind of proven reliability and durability you are used to seeing in our existing products, so don’t expect this to be available on the market in the foreseeable future,” he warns.

New generations of fuels

Today, Hydro-treated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is already on the market – and the current range of DAF trucks can operate on HVO without any technical adaptions or changes to the service schedule.

“It is good that we are doing our utmost to find solutions to meet the Green Deal requirements for 2025 and 2030, but there is already a lot we could do today to lower CO2 emissions,” says Borsboom. “HVO is the latest generation of biodiesel in which – and this is important – production doesn’t interfere with food production and results in a CO2 reduction of up to 90% ‘well-to-wheel’. And in the longer term, e-Fuels will become available. For these, CO2 in the air can be captured and stored and through electrolysis combined with hydrogen. This solution will result in a liquid, CO2-neutral fuel on which modern combustion engines can operate perfectly without any exceptions,” he explains.

But, while HVO has masses of potential, DAF will not put all of its eggs into this sustainability basket. “First of all, let me stress again that there is no one solution for all the different kinds of transport applications,” says Borsboom.

“Distribution transport is different from long haulage. That is why at DAF we are developing, exploring and applying a full spectrum of technologies: battery electric, hybrid electric, hydrogen, you name it. And yes, the combustion engine has great potential for the future. But it appears that politicians don’t want to listen. Everyone has an opinion these days, but it would be better if the decisions rely on hard facts.”

There’s a saying that is often heard in the world of journalism: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Could that be what the politicians are up to…?

What is E-fuel?

E-diesel has the potential to make conventional combustion engines operate almost CO2-neutrally. To produce it, the power-to-liquid plant converts surplus hydropower into synthetic fuel. A chemical principle is applied: The green power generated on-site in the hydroelectric power station produces hydrogen and oxygen from water by means of electrolysis. In the next step, the hydrogen reacts with CO2, using an innovative and very compact microprocess technology. The CO2 can be obtained from the atmosphere or from biogenous waste gases and is the only source of carbon.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is one of the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publications in southern Africa.
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