On a two-day, whirlwind trip to Volvo’s historic home turf in Gothenburg, Sweden, North American trucking journalists got an up-close view of the OEM’s laser-like push toward a zero-emissions future for trucking by the year 2050.
Volvo Trucks President Roger Alm opened up the press briefings with an overview of the company’s Three-Pillar Plan to push larger numbers of zero-emissions trucks into the global marketplace over the next three decades.
That plan, which includes battery-electric trucks, hydrogen fuel cell trucks, and internal combustion engines running clean/renewable fuels, was then given greater context by Jessica Sandström, senior vice president, product management for Volvo Trucks.
Sandström repeated Alm's message that Volvo’s goal is nothing short of replacing all of its diesel-powered trucks on the road today with a net-zero running population by 2050. And this won’t be a cakewalk. As Alm noted earlier in the morning, that means replacing more than 1.2 million trucks in that time frame.
To do that, Sandström said, Volvo understands that it must find solutions for its customers all around the globe, doing different kinds of work, in many different cultural settings, in different climates and geographic conditions.
“Obviously, one size will not fit all, given those demands,” Sandström noted. “Which is why we feel a three-part strategy is the best solution to deliver trucks that perform, no matter where in the world they are.”
ICEs For a Green Future
Although battery-electric trucks and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles garner the bulk of headlines these days, Sandström said Volvo strongly believes the tried-and-true internal combustion engine will a major technological force in trucking’s green future.
“We can foresee many segments for the use of ICEs in the future,” she said. “But it will not be the engine we have today.”
Sandström said alt-fuel technology for ICEs is under active development at Volvo now, with many promising developments taking place.
“We see a future role for fossil fuel-free ICEs,” she added. “These include bio fuels and renewable natural gas. And I think everyone is excited about the idea of injecting hydrogen directly into an engine. We believe hydrogen will be developed as a fuel for both fuel cell and ICE vehicles."
However, she said, "It is important that we use green hydrogen as a fuel so that we can not only achieve net zero emissions from the trucks, but also from the production processes used to create the fuel.”
Hydrogen fuel cell development is in an earlier development stage at Volvo than battery-electrc, Sandström added. But she said Volvo is currently testing the technology in as many operating conditions and climates as possible.
“More road tests will come later this year,” she said. “And everything we see so far leads us to believe that fuel cell trucks are the most suitable technology for net-zero long-distance transport applications.”
Key to this development is Volvo’s cellcentric partnership with Daimler Trucks, Sandström added, which has both OEMs working together to develop fuel cells that will eventually be marketed by both truck-builders.
“We are big competitors,” she said. “But in this case, we are putting trucking’s transition in front by taking unconventional measures to cooperate on the development of this technology. Our engineers are working jointly with Daimler engineers to optimize the use of these systems and integrate them into modern truck designs.”
All-New Electric Axle in the Works
Alt-fuel ICEs and fuel-cell electric trucks will complement pure battery-electric vehicles in the new model lineups Volvo is creating, Sandström said.
“We foresee battery-electric vehicles having the largest volume in the marketplace over time,” she explained. “Battery-electric trucks are simply the most efficient solution for zero-emission trucks. But they offer fleets and drivers added value as well. There is no vibration. The powertrains are silent. And they are extremely energy-efficient vehicles.”
Volvo’s current main battery partner and supplier is Samsung, Sandström said.
“It is critical that we understand our customers’ operations,” she said. “We need to understand their needs and come to them with recommendations to help them succeed. We need to balance battery needs with load capacity. And we will continue to develop and refine these systems.”
Sandström said Volvo’s commitment to battery-electric trucks is evident in a new, proprietary battery plant being built in Sweden.
“We want the battery plant to be close to where our powertrains are produced,” she said. “And Sweden is already a leading producer of green energy. So, this move makes sense on a lot of levels."
Sandström also noted another interesting development on the battery-electric front that Volvo is working on now. This is an all-new, proprietary electric axle system that will soon be the heart of a completely new battery-electric drivetrain for Volvo trucks.
“This e-axle configuration will allow both the electric motors and the transmission to be mounted directly on the rear axle assembly itself,” she explained. “This will allow Volvo engineers to pack a lot more batteries on board future trucks to extend their range. This will be an equally valuable system for extending range with our fuel cell trucks as well. Both of those powertrains will benefit from more compact powertrain solutions.”
Carbon Pricing in the Future?
In his presentation prior to Sandström’s, I asked Roger Alm if he could have any single legislative or technological breakthrough to speed up the adoption of zero-emission trucks what it would be. He unequivocally said, “carbon pricing.”
Carbon pricing as a legislative policy is just now beginning to gain steam in Europe with many different mechanisms in place across many different industries. But, in essence, it’s a legislative policy that charges the users of fossil fuel engines a fee for not using net-zero propulsion technologies. In trucking, this would likely take the form of so many cents per mile run with a diesel-, or gasoline-powered vehicle.
The intent of such a program, Alm explained, is to help level the playing field between conventional powertrains and currently more expensive alternative-fuel systems to encourage their adoption in greater numbers.
It’s an approach Sandström advocated, as well.
“In the long term, we believe that carbon pricing is a good way to go to help boost the adoption of net-zero trucking technologies,” she explained. “It is a technology-neutral approach that is easy to understand. And it can be used to easily calculate savings and long-term cost of ownership in a realistic way for fleets considering the move to net-zero trucks.”
Originally posted on Trucking Info