While the UK Government has changed the deadline to 2035 for a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans, there has been little new information on what will happen to alternatively fuelled trucks and HGVs. 2040 is still the date for a ban on non zero emission HGVs.
That means there’s still time for fleets to assess the various options over the next two or three fleet lifecycles for larger commercial vehicles. But what are the options, either up to 2040, or beyond?
Some experts believe that battery electric trucks will end up as the choice for many operators working in the UK because of geography. As a small island many journeys are not long compared to other countries, and are often fleets that are operating from depots and hubs where they can charge, so a lot of work is within the range of battery electric vehicles.
But due to vehicle cost and the need for infrastructure investment, it may not suit all. So what are the other alternative fuel alternatives?
HVO is a synthetic diesel fuel made from renewable and sustainably sourced vegetable fats and oils.
It is almost identical to regular diesel but with a reduced greenhouse gas footprint of up to 90% over its lifecycle. Research also shows that it can offer up to 33% lower levels of fine particulates, up to almost a third less hydrocarbons, up to 24% lower carbon monoxide, up to 9% less, NOx emissions.
Because HVO is chemically similar to conventional diesel and meets regulatory requirements, it can theoretically be used in any diesel vehicle – although not all manufacturers have approved it, and you should make sure any use will not interfere with manufacturers’ warranty period or your operating contract with your vehicle supplier.
The ease with which many fleets can switch over to HVO (and a number of Allstar customers already have) means it has a role to play in the short to medium term in reducing emissions, but experts are concerned that there is not the volume of sustainably sourced supplies to provide HVO for the entire vehicle parc in the long run.
However, at Allstar we currently have more than 16 HVO locations throughout the UK, with more on the way, meaning it could be an ideal time to get ahead of the curve and switch to HVO if you can access them as part of your routing. As part of this expansion, soon you will be able to find them even more easily through our online site locator and mobile app too. Contact your Allstar account manager to find out more.
Hydrogen has often been cited as the green power source best suited to larger commercial vehicles, because it can refuel quickly, doesn’t require heavy batteries which have an impact on payload capacity, and the only emission is water.
In most circumstances, a truck would pass the hydrogen though a fuel cell which mixes it with oxygen to create electricity, which is either used immediately for powering the motor, or stored for use later in batteries.
However, despite hydrogen fuel cell technology having been around for some time now, vehicles using these powertrains are still scarce. There are many ongoing trials, such those which are part of the Government’s £200 million Zero Emission Road Freight programme, which seek to prove the viability of hydrogen for large truck use.
There are also issues with production and supply. Hydrogen can be produced in many ways, but the two with lowest environmental impact ‘green’ and ‘blue’ hydrogen.
Green production takes renewable energy sources and creates the hydrogen using electrolysis so there are no emissions. However, the cost and availability of renewable energy makes its viability a longer-term goal. Blue hydrogen production uses carbon capture and is a shorter-term solution, but its problem is that it uses natural gas in the production process and so create emissions.
Then there is the problem of supply. While hydrogen can be pumped into fuel tanks in a similar way to petrol and diesel, there are not yet the number of stations in the UK to make this practical for HGV operators. In fact, the number has dropped recently. There are now only seven operational stations, after four closed in 2022.
Synthetic fuels have the same properties as liquid fossil fuels, and so can be used in internal combustion engines, but have been made artificially, with one of the most common methods using carbon and hydrogen.
The result is a carbon-neutral fuel that can be created using renewable electricity sources, and could be pumped into trucks using the pretty much the same refuelling equipment already operating in fuel stations.
However, there are problems with its production. In order to extract the hydrogen, it requires electrolysis and this needs rare earth minerals, while the energy used for production and distribution needs to be sustainable too.
Synthetic fuels are also currently expensive because they are not being produced in anywhere near the volume at which economies of scale can have an effect.
Then there is the fact they are carbon neutral. This is obviously better than releasing carbon dioxide through the use of fossil fuels, but while carbon capture is used in the production of synthetic fuel, eventually it will be burnt in an internal combustion engine, releasing emissions back into the atmosphere. So while synthetic fuels can be used to slow a global increase in emissions, they are unlikely to help in actively reducing them.
However, the British nuclear industry weighed into the debate this year, predicting a global synthetic fuels market of USD15.3 billion by 2030, and claiming that its UK power stations could be used to produce net zero synthetic fuel, saying the heat and electricity generated by them can be used for all stages of the process. It has submitted plans to the UK Government for further consideration.
As each of these fuel types, and vehicles that can use them, increase in availability, there will be more options for fleets to consider, including investment costs, refuelling infrastructure and operational requirements.
At Allstar, we’ve always been at the cutting edge of fuel and payment technology, whether it was allowing fleets to buy the latest blended biofuels, LPG, HVO and now electric.
And we’ll continue to track the market and innovate so that whatever alternative fuel proves to be the one to keep your vehicles running, you will be able to source and pay for it through our extensive network.