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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
A recently published JRC report summarises the presentations and discussions from the workshop on the decarbonisation of heavy-duty road transport, held in October 2020. The workshop focussed on technologies that can lead to full decarbonisation of the sector, including being zero-emission at point of use: a key condition to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Currently, 65-70% of inland freight is transported by diesel trucks, which are responsible for approximately 6% of all EU carbon emissions. As the amount of road freight is expected to increase by 55% by 2050, the decarbonisation of heavy-duty road transport is crucial to the EU.
In October 2020, the JRC held an online workshop looking at the options for replacing diesel heavy goods trucks with zero-emission alternatives. This is a particularly difficult sector to decarbonise because of the weight and volumes of the trucks and the length of the journeys involved, alongside the infrastructure requirements.
Three technology options were considered for long distances: hydrogen fuel cell trucks, battery electric trucks and catenary-powered electric trucks.
None of these technologies have achieved the level of deployment that has been reached for smaller, short-range transport vehicles. The purpose of the workshop was, therefore, to consider which of the options has the highest potential of environmental benefit, identify challenges (and solutions) for these technologies and consider the infrastructure developments that will be needed in each case.
Based on the information provided during the workshop and additional literature research performed by the JRC scientists, it seems likely that no one single zero emission technology solution will be able to cover all mission profiles on the 2050 timeline.
Direct electricity use (either through BET or CET) is likely to be the best environmental option, however BET are limited by weight and range, whilst catenary is limited by infrastructure costs. Therefore, FCET will be needed to fill the gaps for the longest range and heaviest loads, in particular to remote locations. In summary, each of these technologies may have its place in decarbonising road freight, but each may be useful in different scenarios. For example, hydrogen is better suited for long distances, remote sites and heaviest loads, while batteries are more suited for short distances and medium loads and electric roads for specific high volume corridors.
A coordinated and coherent approach to infrastructure development will be required to avoid these technologies being deployed in a haphazard fashion.