Fully electric, hybrid or powered by hydrogen. The truck of the future is already here. The challenge currently lies in making sure it becomes compatible with the grid.
It’s safe to assume that new passenger cars will be fully electric in the next 10 to 15 years. But trucks won’t be all electric by the year 2025. Ron Borsboom, Executive Director Product Development at DAF Trucks, said this during the DTW Talk ‘On the road to cleaner road transport’.
Road freight transport is generally different from passenger vehicle transport. “The defining characteristic of trucks and commercial vehicles is that they drive more than they are stationary, and they often don’t end up returning to the same place. That’s fundamentally different than is the case with passenger cars.”
Hydrogen combustion engine
For instance, distribution in cities can manage with a fully electric vehicle. These type of vehicles travel relatively few kilometers, usually returning to the same place at the end of each day. They operate in an environment where air quality is very important.
But when it comes to long-distance transport, where energy consumption tends to be high, going fully electric is not an obvious choice. After all, the range of batteries is (still) too limited and recharging them takes time. A hydrogen combustion engine is probably a better solution for this kind of transport services.
A different method of freight transport calls for other solutions yet again. Plug-in hybrid trucks, for example, are the solution for transporters who operate both in the city (electric) and outside (diesel).
DAF has been supplying hybrid and fully electric trucks for some time now. In fact, the Eindhoven-based company was the first to introduce a hybrid truck, and one of the first European truck manufacturers to successfully market a fully electric truck.
DAF has also set its sights on hydrogen. “The hydrogen combustion engine is definitely an interesting alternative. We have already developed the first engine and to the delight of our enthusiastic developers,” Borsboom adds. He has been a member of the DAF Trucks Board of Management since 2002.
Hydrogen is without a doubt the future. “Because of its extensive range and productivity, hydrogen is very interesting,” Borsboom explained. The ability to charge batteries in a short period of time is still a hurdle. Filling the tank with hydrogen is a lot faster than charging batteries. “What we need is an excellent network of hydrogen filling stations. The challenge of the future is to establish a good support network along the main transport routes. Developing zero-emission trucks is not the problem. We can make those trucks.”
Conversely, according to Borsboom, LNG (liquefied natural gas) propulsion does not have a long-term future (other manufacturers, such as Scania, think otherwise). “We were one of the first to come up with an LNG bus twenty years ago, so we know what we’re talking about. But this is not the track we are going to follow to get to zero emissions. When you add it all up, the CO2 savings with liquefied gas are not that great.”
Another development of the future lies in the communication in and around the means of transport. We have already experienced the transition from the ‘mechanical car’ to what is pretty much a driving computer. The next development is that the complex networks in the car need to communicate with complex networks surrounding the car. That requires an even higher degree of specialization and high tech knowledge.
High tech enterprise
It is not for nothing that DAF Trucks is regarded today as more of a high-tech enterprise than just a truck manufacturer. The engine development department already employs 950 (mechatronic) engineers. That amounts to about a tenth of the entire workforce.
The company is known for developing and producing everything in-house as much as possible, from engines to cabins to axles. DAF also has a name to uphold where ergonomics are concerned. The driver’s cabin is consequently of key importance to the company. In that context, Borsboom announced during this DTW Talk that the company will be introducing another important innovation later this month.
DAF is one of the world”s leading manufacturers of power trains. For example, 35 percent of the trucks on North American roads are equipped with power trains from DAF (under the name of Paccar, DAF’s parent company). The company’s revenue tops nearly five billion euros.
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