The climate crisis and the need to reduce emissions means EVs and alternative fuel vehicles are in the hot seat.
Transport makes up 19 per cent of Australia’s total carbon emissions, while passenger and light commercial vehicles contribute to 60 per cent of that total. Clearly, cleaning up transport is one of the major tasks we face as a nation if we’re going to hit net-zero by 2050.
It’s a message Australia, for so long living under an EV rock, is finally getting on board with. According to the latest numbers from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which tracks new vehicle sales, EVs made up 8 per cent of new vehicle purchases in April of this year. That works out to be 8124 registrations and year to date sales of 32,050, up a whopping 275.2 per cent over 2022.
The question is, where does this leave fleet operators, particularly those running heavy vehicles? Is battery power on the cards, or are there other options out there?
Batteries just won’t cut it – yet
As outlined in the Australian Government’s National Electric Vehicles Strategy, released earlier this year, transport is projected to be Australia’s largest source of emissions by 2030. On the other hand, EVs powered by Australia’s abundant renewable energy resources are projected to achieve an economy-wide emissions reduction target of 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – and net zero emissions by 2050.
As an operator of a massive fleet, the Australia Government has joined the international Zero-Emission Government Fleet Declaration, which commits the government to procure 100 per cent zero emissions vehicles, including heavy vehicles, by 2035.
However, the reality is battery power, with ranges and charging times acceptable for light passenger cars and trucks doing lots of short trips, just won’t cut it – yet – for heavy vehicles. There are several reasons for this. Battery power density isn’t where it needs to be for a truck, meaning a battery-electric heavy vehicle would require massive packs that take hours to recharge and would contribute significantly to gross vehicle mass, affecting the business’s productivity.
For fleet operators, there’s also a lack of charging infrastructure unless they install it at their bases and the range of a battery powered truck is a mismatch with the work they’re required to do.
There are two potential answers for heavy vehicle fleet operators wanting to decarbonise. The first, biofuels, are available and in use today. The second, hydrogen, is a potential solution, but significant investment will be required, not only in fuelling infrastructure, but also in sourcing clean, green hydrogen.
Australia has abundant natural resources to make clean hydrogen; the Australian Government is investing $1.4 billion in building a competitive hydrogen industry. Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy aims to grow the industry and position Australia as a major player by 2030.
At the end of 2021, a world-first project saw five hydrogen-powered trucks deployed to transport zinc from Sun Metals’ Townsville mine to the Port of Townsville. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) conditionally approved $3.02 million in funding to support the deployment. The five zero-emission trucks replaced equivalent diesel-powered trucks, avoiding 1300 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.
There is also a third option: transport operators can also look to technology as a solution to decarbonisation. Insights from telematics around vehicle performance and driver behaviour to reduce fuel usage and rates saves users an average of 12.7 per cent, according to Teletrac Navman’s 2019 Telematics Benchmark Report. Here in Australia, for example, Jarratt Transport Solutions, based out of the Port of Brisbane, in Queensland, estimates it saves around 3000 litres of fuel per month by using telematics to coach drivers in more efficient driving.
Battery powered heavy vehicles will eventually have a place on Australian roads. In the meantime, operators can look to biofuels and – potentially hydrogen – as a way of decarbonising their fleets. And technology, including telematics, also has an important role to play in improving driver behaviour and lowering fuel use. They’re all part of the puzzle as Australia aims for net-zero.