Before 2020, natural gas for vehicles appeared to be the solution that would make it possible to smoothly negotiate the abandonment of almighty diesel and tackle the issue of the energy transition of heavy goods vehicles head-on. In addition to the explosion in gas prices, these certainties have been swept away by the acceleration of electrification which, after having taken root in the automobile, is about to spread to the entire road transport sector. Circulating 44 tons of electric vehicles, an option that was still perfectly incongruous yesterday, must become the norm.
Less strict than for passenger cars, the proposals applicable to industrial vehicles unveiled on February 14 by the European Commission and which will have to be approved by the European Parliament aim to reduce pollutant emissions by 90% by 2040 compared to the levels of 2019. A first stage foresees a reduction of 45% in 2030 then another of 65% in 2035. Started later, the energy conversion of heavy goods vehicles, now in their infancy, will have to be put in place at full speed .
The objectives set by the European Union can only be achieved through massive use of electric traction. However, if the automobile has clearly taken the path of battery-powered vehicles, the fuel cell powered by hydrogen appears to be a credible alternative for adapting trucks to the environmental constraints imposed on them.
These two solutions have in common that they do not emit greenhouse gases when driving and that they can be adapted without too much difficulty to the chassis of conventional trucks. They are, moreover, appreciated by the drivers. Electric propulsion offers quieter operation and a smoother ride, but also delivers sharper acceleration, which makes it easier to fit into traffic.
Distribution of roles
Until then, a dividing line was a consensus. For battery-powered heavy goods vehicles in urban areas or at regional level; transport over longer distances to hydrogen thanks to its greater autonomy. This distribution of roles no longer seems entirely self-evident. Benefiting from the proliferation in Europe of gigafactories set up on the initiative of car manufacturers, batteries offer prospects for cost reduction which make them more attractive, including on long journeys. In 2022, among the 139 electric trucks registered in France, only three were equipped with a fuel cell.
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