Single-minded focus on zero-emission trucks leading to more CO2 emissions

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All the recent reports on CO2 emissions show that we aren’t going to be meeting the reduction targets set in the Netherlands.

This is again evident from last week’s, march 13th, IBO (Interdepartementaal Beleidsonderzoek (Interministrial Policy review). The same is true for all sectors – and hence for transport: in spite of all the schemes and subsidies, current and future transport emissions aren’t on track. A significant portion of these are caused by heavy road freight. In my view, the focus on zero-emission trucks in this case is far too single-minded. Numerous hours and euros have already gone into achieving zero-emission zones in cities, with any recent subsidy schemes aimed at promoting electric and hydrogen trucks. But real scaling up of zero-emission trucks still isn’t possible for a variety of reasons, with, as a result, hardly any CO2 being reduced by heavy trucks. In spite of the fact that it is already perfectly possible to do so today!

Heavy road transport towards zero emission

On a preliminary note: I am fully in favour of the development of electric and hydrogen trucks and the associated charging infrastructure. It is even our mission at Rolande to get heavy road transport to zero emission. But really zero-emission… By that, I mean we have to look at the entire chain (well-to-wheel) and not just the emissions of the truck itself (tank-to-wheel). This is what is currently happening in the Netherlands: as long as the truck doesn’t emit anything. Emissions from the power plant are all too readily disregarded.

The deployment of zero emission trucks is difficult to scale up due to the limited range of current trucks, but in particular because the charging infrastructure can’t be ratcheted up due to restrictions in the electricity grid (so-called congestion problems,  congestion on the electricity grid). Both the trucks and the charging infrastructure will develop rapidly in the next few years, but even then the focus is mainly on regional transport. How are we going to green long-distance and international traffic, where by far the most mileage is incurred (and thus the most CO2 emissions)?


Of course, there is also a cost. In transport, we look at the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). Much can be said about this. For now, the following will suffice: the purchase price of electric and hydrogen trucks is currently 3 and 5 times more expensive than diesel and LNG trucks, respectively. Hydrogen trucks are hardly available at all yet. The production of green hydrogen is still very limited and still very expensive. And because of the more limited use of electric trucks (due to longer charging times), it certainly isn’t profitable at the end of the day. A lot of subsidy money is needed to scale it up. If you compare this with the limited CO2 gain, you actually can’t justify it.

CO2 emissions need to be reduced

In my view, the development and promotion of electric and hydrogen trucks should definitely continue. However, this development is still really in the R&D phase and far from that of scaling up. Therefore, with zero-emission trucks alone, we are certainly not going to be meeting the CO2 reduction targets.

But then we do have a very big and pressing problem: we need to reduce our CO2 emissions. Not in 5 or 10 years, but now! Given the very single-minded focus of the government and a number of industry organisations (e.g. the Dutch Association for Transport and Logistics (TLN) – Transport en Logistiek Nederland) on zero-emission alone, CO2 targets are never going to be met. Fortunately, however, we already have the solution: renewable fuels. And for trucks, these are mainly HVO and Bio-LNG. Trucks are available ex-factory in all kinds of models/designs; the refuelling infrastructure is in place, and significant quantities of HVO and Bio-LNG are already being produced, with serious volumes to come in the short term.

HVO and Bio-LNG

Are HVO and Bio-LNG the perfect solutions? No, but transitions aren’t solved by perfect solutions. Rather, taking specific steps with imperfect solutions that do directly contribute to the desired outcome is the way to ultimate solutions. If we are going to wait for the perfect solution (read here: the electric or hydrogen truck and the corresponding charging infrastructure), we can be sure that we won’t have reduced our carbon footprint enough by 2030. In fact, I think even more CO2 will be emitted, because the majority of people will wait and do nothing. Doing nothing in this case means extra diesel trucks on the road.

And how perfect do you want it to be? HVO and Bio-LNG, make CO2 savings of between 90 and 100% possible! Can all trucks in the Netherlands or Europe run on it? No, as there isn’t that much available at the moment. However, if we join forces and see renewable fuels as a fully-fledged alternative, we will achieve the ambitious CO2 targets.

Additional incentives for renewable fuels

And incentivising isn’t very complicated. What is crucial is that a carrier has sufficient security. Certainty that their truck can keep running with a competitive TCO throughout its lifespan. And with some additional government incentives for renewable fuels, forwarders and carriers will really invest in renewable fuels. This incentive is possible through a reduction in excise duty, a reduction in the rate of the goods-vehicle toll (coming in 2026), a fair share from redistribution,

purchase subsidies on trucks, higher blending requirements for conservative fuels and factoring in these fuels in any legislation and regulations.

If you, as a carrier or forwarder, really want to save CO2 in heavy road transport in the next 10 to 15 years, invest in HVO100 and Bio-LNG. And if you, as a government, don’t want to play token politics, but really want to achieve CO2 targets, broaden the perspective in your policy. Make the use of renewable fuels attractive. Encourage it, and certainly don’t prohibit it. 

So, dear government, industry association, NGOs, carriers and forwarders, to you the question: are you only going to invest your time and money into the “perfect solution”, or are we really going to reduce our carbon footprint now?