MAN Truck & Bus

CO2 reduction is the top priority

Clean mobility in heavy-duty commercial vehicles: A transformation of commercial and public transport vehicles poses different challenges to those that are already evident for private cars. Which alternatives to the diesel engine hold the greatest potential and what are the consequences of conversion? A look into the near future.

Cleanest solution E-commercial vehicles such as the MAN Lion's City E city bus shown here are particularly environmentally friendly because they are locally emission-free.

Mobility in transition

Commercial vehicle technology is rapidly developing. New drive technologies, digital solutions and intelligent networking mean that new vehicle concepts, new forms of use and even new business models are emerging within the commercial vehicle sector. What lies behind catchphrases like "technological transformation", "alternative drives", "digitisation" or "automated driving"? And what effect will this transformation have on the commercial vehicle industry in the coming years? MAN sheds light on the questions of future energy sources and drive concepts.

Reducing harmful emissions has lately been a major topic for commercial vehicle and engine manufacturers. Until recently, the main aim of statutory exhaust regulations for commercial vehicles was to minimise emissions that are harmful to humans, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and fine dust particles. Growing awareness of the harmful influence of CO2 on the climate, however, has led to a rethink in society and politics. More and more private and municipal fleet operators want to contribute to climate protection and are demanding vehicles with low CO2 emissions or locally emission-free drive systems. The EU also decided in June 2019 to reduce CO2 emissions from new trucks by 30 percent by 2030. There is a direct correlation between diesel engine CO2 emissions and consumption, so local emission-free alternatives have to be found because diesel engines cannot inherently be made 30 percent more efficient. The EU's CO2 targets can only be met with low- or better still zero-emission vehicles.

Alternatives for e-mobility

Things are not however as simple for heavy-duty commercial vehicles as they are for cars, where an electric drive using battery storage is currently regarded as the most promising technology. Their vehicle configurations are too different and their operating parameters too divergent. Whilst a public service bus seldom covers more than 300 kilometres a day in city traffic, a coach can easily double that daily mileage. And the demands placed on a delivery truck that returns to the depot every day are completely different from those placed on a long-distance truck that travels throughout Europe for days or even weeks.

Commercial vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers therefore have to simultaneously pursue different approaches to alternative energy sources and drive systems and develop different solutions for various vehicle types and applications. The battery electric drive with recharging at home or at en route charging stations is only one of several approaches – even if it promises the greatest success. Other drive technologies are also seen sector-wide as offering future potential in buses and trucks.

Conventional diesel engines with little or no modification can operate with biofuel made from plants or frying fat, for instance, or with synthetic fuels produced from carbon dioxide and water using renewable energies. Engines using natural gas (CNG/LNG) as fuel are also based on established engine technology. All three alternatives mentioned reduce commercial vehicle CO2 emissions, but not sufficiently to meet the EU requirements. Moreover, unlike electrically powered vehicles, they are not locally emission-free. This is a shortcoming – especially in inner-city traffic.

A further alternative energy source is the electric drive using hydrogen. This is based on hydrogen combining with atmospheric oxygen in a fuel cell to form water, releasing electrical energy which is then available to drive the vehicle. As simple as this process sounds, its technical implementation is difficult and expensive. And there remains the vexed question of a nationwide filling station infrastructure for the highly explosive hydrogen. The infrastructure also plays a decisive role in overhead line technology. This involves hybrid or battery electric vehicles receiving current from overhead lines while driving and using it both for propulsion and for recharging the batteries.

Only with low or zero-emission vehicles can the EU's CO2 targets be met.

Revolution in urban traffic Low-emission and low-noise commercial vehicles, here the MAN eTGM, will above all improve the quality of life in large cities.

The most important drives

Predictions: Which technology will prevail?

Future assessments, such as a study dealing with utility vehicles executed by the petroleum company Shell and the German Aerospace Institute, predict that diesel engines are going to power the majority of European utility vehicles until the year 2030, and beyond. In contrast, experts of the aforementioned Shell-study predict an explicit trend of battery-powered vehicles when it comes to busses and light-duty vessels. A survey by the consulting agency Boston Consulting Group indicates that by the year 2030, 31 % of all utility vehicle-customers in Europe will choose a motor powered by LNG, a fuel cell or batteries.

Conversion plans: how the sector is preparing for the transformation

Even if the high efficiency and reliability of the diesel engine means it will apparently continue to shape commercial vehicle fleets for some years to come, commercial vehicle manufacturers should be accelerating their switch to alternative drives, advise management consultants McKinsey in their 2018 study on the future of the commercial vehicle industry. Their authors believe that alternative drives are one of the main factors in achieving new and additional business potential.

Taking advantage of this, however, relies on development and production processes being adapted to the changed demand at an early stage. New drive technologies require employees with suitable specialist knowledge – from development engineers to mechatronics engineers in service workshops. The introduction of electric drives in particular results in adaptations – even in production. An electric drive consists of ten times fewer parts than a classic diesel drive with transmission, so the production and assembly costs are much lower.