At the recent Future Powertrain Conference in Solihull UK, Professor Matthias Wellers, Managing Director AVI Powertrain, said he liked the idea of intermittent catenaries on major roads charging inter-city pure electric trucks. This is to be trialled in Germany and elsewhere. The cost of that infrastructure is considerable but probably less than that for green hydrogen production and distribution proposed by the fuel cell enthusiasts. Ricardo has pointed out that the hydrogen tanks on an inter-city trucks will use a lot of space. A slide by Siemens showed fuel cell trucks with a poor 29% efficiency well-to-wheel, battery at 62% and small battery with catenary at 77%. However, to make the hydrogen at lower cost, there are arguments for using some of the terawatt of renewable electricity supply currently being switched off or wasted worldwide when it occurs at the wrong time of day.
Indeed the arguments are very circular, depending heavily on your assumptions about the part you are considering. For example, some believe that "wasted" electricity from renewables is but a passing phase as battery storage and other options become more viable. Professor Wellers pointed out that Daimler will launch a 200 km pure electric large truck in 2018 but he did not think it would be the whole solution.
The increase in traffic in cities such as London is reported to be due to cruising Uber taxis and delivery trucks caused by people internet shopping. London is killing around ten thousand people yearly from traffic pollution and we were told that there is some consensus that most of the inner-city delivery trucks can and will be pure electric.
Counter to the flow of history several speakers argued for diesel to be around for a long time yet for inter-city trucks because there is "no alternative". This was despite a UK government minister recently recommending people to "think twice" about buying diesel cars and several cities announcing plans to ban diesel vehicles at certain dates in the future. The diesel people congratulated the UK at being so clever with internal combustion engines but it sounded like King Canute ordering the tide to go back. Remember how we admired our virtuosity with steam trains one hundred years earlier? It was disturbing that the fund distribution body the Advanced Propulsion Centre in the UK expressed intention to continue supporting improvement in the internal combustion engine as a priority.
At the other extreme, Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman of analysts IDTechEx, said that it is not just lead that is a four letter word now. "Diesel is a four letter word" meaning the trend to pure electric is unstoppable, whether with those interesting catenaries or the Canadian "truck" funded by the Canadian Government. He referred to the Solarship which is a helium-filled autonomous aerofoil propelled entirely by photovoltaics on the fabric. He speculated that it may cross Canada in a straight line faster than the truck below carrying the same 35 tonne load. It even acts as a crane, raising and dropping its load exactly where it need to be. Not the whole answer but more believable than turning the clock back. Indeed, Energy Independent Electric Vehicles (EIV) now take the form of upper atmosphere fixed wing drones, quadcopters, golf cars, cars, small buses and marine craft. IDTechEx will stage the world's first conference on them at the Technical University of Delft September 27-28 because it is there that the winning solar racing cars and solar boats are made and most of the enabling technologies are developed including Aerial Wind Energy and solar roads that may one day make ships energy independent instead of polluting at the level of 30,000 cars.
Top image source: Solar Ship