Energy Transition Challenges for Road Haulage – Interview with the French National road haulage federation - Lhyfe

Published on 23/09/2021

The French national road haulage federation FNTR expects great changes in the industry in the coming years, and energy transition is one of the many challenges it faces. How is it approaching this transition and at what pace? What opportunities are helping this industry, for which CO2 emissions are still high, to go green? What barriers do transport operators face in this respect today?

Jean Marc Pellazza, Regional Representative for FNTR Normandy answered some of our questions to shed some light on the situation.

How is the issue of energy transition affecting the road haulage industry?

JMP : Our world faces an unprecedented environmental challenge. Our companies feel utterly concerned by this challenge, however, trucks, in particular, are unfairly accused as being responsible for all ills. Be it by opinion leaders, policy makers or citizens, they are often reproached for the same things: dangerousness, noise, pollution, etc. And yet, our profession has being pursuing a sustainable development process for twenty or so years, and has reduced its emissions of polluting gases by over 80%. This tremendous progress is a spectacular environmental achievement but completely unknown to the public. Eight-five percent of our fleets already meet EURO 6 standards. We are working relentlessly to make our vehicle fleets greener, manufacturers are offering electric engines (short distance) and gas engines (medium- and long-distance), and in about ten years from now, there will be hydrogen-powered lorries on our roads! It is a matter of utmost priority for us in an environment which is extremely complex, especially, but not only, in terms of financial balance. Transformations in global logistics and soaring raw materials prices are also going to affect energy transition considerably.

Faced with the climate emergency, haulage operators are in a front-line position to become agents of change: are they ready to bring about a change that will have great impacts on their business?

JMP: Our profession is indeed on the front line; 99% of fleets worldwide still run on diesel. Our profession is resolutely determined to undertake the transition to alternative fuels. The shift is already underway, with biofuels, CNG (gas) and a small share of electric vehicles which is growing, too. Currently, biofuels and gas are the two alternative energies that are reliable while having a much better environmental footprint.

Among the solutions available to haulage operators, how do you view hydrogen?

JMP: Hydrogen appears to be a very promising fuel; the various European investment plans are concrete evidence of that. Normandy is going to have the largest GREEN hydrogen refuelling station (H2V) in the world, in Saint-Jean-de-Folleville. China has already made the shift to hydrogen a national priority (its target is to produce a million hydrogen vehicles by 2030). When it is made using renewable energy, GREEN hydrogen is extremely POSITIVE for the environment! Hydrogen vehicles are advantageous in that they produce water vapour and zero CO2 emissions! According to the experts questioned, hydrogen is going to have a prominent position in the heavy vehicles and medium- and long-distance goods transportation market, due to the better range that this technology offers compared to exclusively battery-powered vehicles (for a range of 100 km, a tonne of batteries are required). Refuelling time is short (a few minutes) and range is high. Moreover, fuel cells are compatible with challenging environments (cold or strong heat). Volvo and Daimler are working in partnership to produce fuel cell systems for trucks by 2025 to 2030.

What opportunities does switching to hydrogen represent for hauliers?

JMP: Concretely, hydrogen represents:
a solution to make vehicle fleets electric while conserving the agility we are used to with internal combustion engines (range and refuelling time);
an opportunity to green the image of our industry and attract young people to our profession.
Solutions providing access to this technology exist today, through projects for the deployment of full regional hydrogen ecosystems (production, distribution and use) – haulage operators can be part of these projects as of now. The Normandy region is particularly active and engaged in developing this hydrogen value chain.

Conversely, what are the barriers to this change?

JMP: This is the key issue. We cannot insist more on the importance of green hydrogen (editor’s note: now officially renewable hydrogen), in other words hydrogen produced using the electrolysis of water with green electricity. There is no other green fuel on the horizon that is capable of meeting the needs of the energy-intensive air, maritime and road transport fields. This technology has numerous advantages but the costs and technical developments still required are strong barriers to its use by the general public. Hydrogen production and distribution are expensive. The price of a heavy vehicle is currently about 500,000 euros. Another non-negligible obstacle that the fuel cell will face is safety. While some manufacturers assure that their systems are perfectly safe, it is above all a question of winning consumer trust. Road haulage is commencing an irreversible transformation that will cause its operating costs to skyrocket and mark the end of a “revolutionary” business model driven for years by liquid petroleum.

In the medium term, how do you see the industry changing (specifically in relation to the question of energy)?

JMP: The energy transition is a key aspect of environmental policy and low-emission transportation. We are committed to the deployment of an energy mix for the next 15 years in the road haulage field. This future energy mix shall be based on the deployment of gas/biogas, electric and hydrogen. So far, the range proposed by industrial vehicle manufacturers for all the energy options is not yet as varied as that for vehicles using diesel fuel. However, this situation should evolve rapidly between now and 2022/2023. The densification of the refuelling network remains one of the major energy mix issues. This will be enhanced by regions and municipalities taking the lead.