For instance, in 2019, road freight emissions were 44% higher than the aviation sector’s and 37% higher than maritime transport emissions. These are the facts the Commission experts are using for their proposal.
Oddly, the outcome is not the same as was the case with light-duty vehicles. You know, from 2035 onward new passenger cars and SUVs must be 100% zero emissions. So, new ICE cars are going to be banned, because they can’t meet these criteria.
In the case of heavy-duty vehicles, the zero-emissions target concerns only the new city buses, starting in 2030. This transport sector expects a fast shift because distances are short and charging infrastructure is easy to put in place in cities. The positive impact is also very easy to quantify.
Recently, we witnessed the longest trip with an electric semi-trailer truck. It took the driver a week and many charging breaks to finish the 3,000 km (1,860 miles) trip. The same trip takes around four days with a diesel semi. So, there’s high reluctance in the freight transport sector regarding a fast shift to zero-emissions heavy trucks.
Maybe this is why EU Commission’s experts proposed a leaner plan for them. Compared to 2019 levels, the reduction in CO2 emissions for heavy trucks must be according to these milestones:
- from 2030 – 45% less;
- from 2035 – 65% less;
- from 2040 – 90% less.
They also want investments to be channeled into recharging and refueling infrastructure. Initial proposals state that electric chargers must be installed on highways every 60 km (37 miles). Hydrogen refueling stations are to be installed every 150 km (93 miles), as fuel cell technology is seen as crucial for freight transport.
It's important to note that in the freight sector emissions are increasing rapidly, and they will continue to do so, as the road transport demand is expected to keep rising at a fast pace. Again, the logical solution to curb emissions is to impose a phase-out for ICE heavy-duty vehicles.
Instead, those milestones will most likely make the EU’s net-zero climate goal impossible. According to T&E, EU officials should set a 2035 zero-emissions deadline. Otherwise, in 2050 we will still have diesel freight trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles in operation in Europe. Their number will be much lower than today, but they will be responsible for an important amount of emissions.
Add to this picture the exemption to the CO2 reduction targets, applying to these types of heavy-duty vehicles:
- small volume manufacturers;
- vehicles used for mining, forestry, and agricultural purposes;
- vehicles designed and constructed for the use by armed forces and track-laying vehicles;
- vehicles designed and constructed or adapted for use by civil protection, fire services, and forces responsible for maintaining public order, or urgent medical care;
- vocational vehicles, such as garbage trucks.
These exempt vehicles represent roughly 10% of the total heavy-duty fleet in the EU, so allowing them to use diesel engines in the next decades will simply undermine the efforts to curb emissions. There are already companies offering mining vehicles, garbage trucks, or fire service trucks with electric powertrains, and these should be the benchmarks.
According to data compiled by United Nations Climate Change Convention, road transport, and especially heavy-duty vehicles, is one of the largest sources of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide pollution.
While trucks account for only two percent of vehicles in use in Europe, they are responsible for almost a third of emissions and pollutants. In 2021, the European Environment Agency concluded that road transport causes an estimated 350,000 premature deaths per year in the EU. Tens of thousands are directly attributable to freight transport, because of large diesel engines’ emissions and pollutants.
There is also the question of how much emissions vary in real-world usage compared to official specs. Unlike the U.S., the EU geography has many mountains and in the last years, road traffic congestion numbers have been higher.
Climbing hills and traffic jams lead to much more emissions than usual because diesel’s efficiency under heavy loads is scarce, especially compared to electric powertrains. We should also take into account the higher costs for the industry to adapt large combustion engines to new stringent rules for slashing emissions.
The Commission’s experts estimated average extra costs per trailer and semitrailer to €2,500-5,250 /vehicle ($2,670-5,600/vehicle) compared to the 2020 baseline. In 2040, costs increase for manufacturers for additional technologies in new heavy-duty vehicles could pass €13,000/vehicle ($13,800/vehicle).
But the values could be even ten times higher, as was the case of new Euro 7 pollution standards for passenger cars. Counting subsidies for zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles is making futile ICE powertrains use beyond 2030 or 2035 in this sector.
The sooner legislation is agreed upon, the better for the industry to prepare feasible business plans to meet the climate goals. Of course, in the process, people will benefit too from drastically slashing emissions. After all, we the people are the most important piece of the puzzle.