Bio-LNG and e-fuels will not be an effective path to zero-emission transport, says Dachser’s Andre Kranke

Bio-LNG and e-fuels will not be an effective path to zero-emission transport, says Dachser’s Andre Kranke — 2023-08-07

Land transportation

During the Transport Logistic fair in Munich in the summer of 2023, we met Andre Kranke, head of the corporate research & development department at Dachser, to talk about the company's project of zero-emission deliveries implemented in several European cities. The conversation also touched on the prospects for the development of zero-emission transport as whole, including hydrogen vehicles.

Read on to learn:

  • about the project of emission-free deliveries carried out in European cities
  • about Dachser’s holistic approach to electric transport
  • about whether it is better to focus on electric cars or hydrogen vehicles

Michał Pakulniewicz, Trans.Info: Dachser has a emissions free delivery concept that it is implementing across Europe. You are currently present with this offer in 12 cities and have plans for further expansion. In which European cities can we expect to see the emissions free deliveries in the coming years?

Andre Kranke, Head of Corporate Research & Development: "Yes, we offer emission-free deliveries in 12 European cities at the moment, and we plan to expand this service to 10 more within the next two years. We have yet to make a final decision as to which cities these will be, but we’ll be targeting cities and metropolitan areas with more than 1 million inhabitants."

Do you consider entering cities in Central and Eastern Europe? Perhaps in Poland?

AK: "They will be in our European network, which encompasses the whole of the European Union plus additional countries like Switzerland and Norway. We have yet to specify the cities, but they will be announced in the coming months."

One of the biggest topics in the transport industry is switching to the low-emission transport with electrification being in the forefront of the process. How is that proceeding in Dachser?

AK: "We started with urban areas and city distribution in 2016. At that time, no electric trucks were available, only prototypes. We worked with many players in the automotive industry, like Daimler. In 2018, we established our first emission-free deliveries based on electric trucks in Stuttgart. As of this January, we perform such deliveries in 12 European cities. The reason why it took us so long to reach this milestone is that no battery-electric trucks between 7.5 and 18 metric tons (the ones for city distribution) were available with all the standard services during this period. Now that they are available, we can order these trucks and (though there might be delays) use them in the cities."

Do you own these electric vehicles or are they part of your sub-contractors’ fleet?

AK: "We have a very small fleet of our own, and we mainly work with our service partners. As for the electric delivery trucks, most of the vehicles we initially used belonged to us. Today, we support our subcontractors in buying or leasing such vehicles. We have a special program to assist them in their transformation to electric transport."

So when is Dachser planning to be completely emissions-free. Because we assume that is the end goal for the company?

AK: "You have to look at it in terms of Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions. The Scope 1 and 2 emissions make up the company’s own carbon footprint: its fleet, its trailers, its buildings. Scope 3 emissions come from services and products that we buy from the market. And these account for 95% of all our emissions. As far as Scope 1 and 2 emissions go, our goal is to achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2040. I believe in Europe we will reach this goal sooner since this is a global target. For Scope 3, this is of course much harder. We can’t tell our partners—the shipping companies, for instance—how to do their job. We have a general goal for 2050. We might reach it earlier than that in some parts of the world—in Europe, most probably—but it’s hard to say when exactly it will be achieved everywhere."

I understand in terms of road transport in Europe it will be much easier and much earlier?

AK: "Exactly, that’s our primary focus. These are our Scope 1 and 2 emissions. The next step is to target the truck emissions of our partners’ fleets. At the moment, we are working with a consulting company to prepare a clear, reliable plan for all emission categories, including truck transport in Europe. But even within Europe, each country has its own framework for how to reach emission goals. We are in the process of developing a detailed plan for how to reach net-zero emissions in different regions and in different segments."

But electrification isn’t only about the vehicles. The charging infrastructure is equally important. And the low density of the charging station networks is one of the main obstacles to electrification of transport. Do you have any plans to build your own infrastructure or support building such infrastructure?

AK: "The big issue is charging, as well as load and grid management. Last year, we defined three pilot branches in Germany: in Hamburg, Malsch near Karlsruhe, and Freiburg. There, we will deploy 10 or more long-haul electric trucks and also build the charging infrastructure we need. We’ll explore all challenges related to grid and load management. We started the project in the three branches to learn how to manage the electric fleet correctly. We need to be able to charge both short-distance and long-distance trucks in all our branches, taking into account different charging times and capacity. At the moment, we’re working on different ideas for this new setup. In Hamburg, for instance, we do not have much space, while in two other locations, there’s more space. So, we’re testing different operation modes in these three branches."

You mentioned long-distance electric trucks. One of the reservations of carriers in Poland for instance is the fact that the current available electric trucks do not have long ranges and although they are fine for last mile deliveries and regional transport, but are very inconvenient, not to say useless, on long distance routes.

AK: "In cities, we use Daimler’s eActros trucks with a range of around 300 to 400 kilometers, depending on the battery package. And they work very well. We have no long-haul experience with these vehicles yet. Our first DAF semi-trailer will have a range of around 200 kilometers. We ordered it in 2021 and it only just arrived. It was one of the first of its kind. The next generation of vehicles by Volvo, which we will use in Prague, will have a range of around 350 kilometers. We’ll have to test it before it can go into operation. And the latest generation of Daimler and MAN trucks is said to have a range of around 500 kilometers. We’ve already ordered a few of them and will get more by 2024, 2025. So, as you can see, at the moment, the maximum range of electric vehicles is 500 kilometers. To achieve a longer range, another technology is needed, in our opinion: fuel-cell electric trucks. We already have one such truck in our fleet—a Hyundai—which will run between our Magdeburg branch and Berlin in the near future [Note: the interview was conducted in the second week of 2023 May]. By the way, we also ordered an FCEV for our Hamburg branch, but that one will be used in urban areas only and isn’t a long-haul truck."

So for the time being it seems electric trucks will cover the urban and regional transport, while long-haul will be performed by the FCEV trucks. Is that right?

AK: "The question is, how vehicles, for example the eActros I mentioned, is classified. Are they long-haul or short-haul vehicles? We also have to remember that truck manufacturers are working on a new generation of trucks with a charging power of 1000 kW. Of course, we still need to build the corresponding charging infrastructure, but with this technology available, it will be possible to fully charge a truck in 30–45 minutes. So, I can’t give you a definitive answer to your question. From our point of view, we should use both technologies, and we’ll see which technology is better suited for individual use cases."

Do you have further plans to order more hydrogen-powered trucks?

AK: "Today, we employ one such truck, a Hyundai, as part of a pilot project. It has a range of 400 kilometers. FCEVs will become more interesting once they have a range of over 500 kilometers. That would be the best use case for these trucks in the future. Such trucks are not yet available, only some prototypes. But we’re not interested in prototypes; we prefer serial products. That’s why we’re currently more focused on electric trucks than on hydrogen ones. I think we will start using FCEVs as standard trucks, meaning on a large scale, in the second half of this decade, perhaps in 2027 or 2028."

Have you considered gas-run vehicles?

AK: "Yes, we’ve tested them. But in terms of emissions, fossil LNG is no better than the Euro 6 norm. There’s no great benefit. There’s also the option of using bio-LNG, which is cleaner than Euro 6. But at the moment, only a few countries have the right framework for this, such as Finland. There, we use trucks that run on LNG or CNG made from biofuels. But Finland is the exception not the rule. And keep in mind that this is only a bridging technology, not a zero-emission technology. It doesn’t meet the latest EU regulations. We are focusing on zero-emission technologies."

When it comes to the EU regulations on zero-emission fuels, the automotive industry is advocating the inclusion of e-fuels in the regulations alongside electric and hydrogen-run vehicles. Do you see that as a potential solution for the transport industry?

AK: "These fuels are still not taken into account in the EU framework. And to be honest, they will be so expensive that we currently see no solution based on e-fuels for the transport segment. They won’t be available on a large scale in the next 10 years, and they will be very costly. We have to comply with the EU legal framework, which today means using battery-electric and fuel-cell trucks."

But I understand the vast majority of your trucks or those of your contractors are still diesel trucks?

AK: "For this decade, the Euro 6 diesel engine will remain the most efficient and most climate-friendly mode of driving available for trucks in Europe."