How Hydrogen Propulsion Combined with Autonomous Trucking Can Dramatically Improve the Supply Chain: Biofuels Digest
By Jason Wallace, Head of North American Operations for Hydron, special for The Digest
While we can thank the trucking industry for packages that arrive at our doorsteps within minutes of us ordering them, there’s no denying that long-haul freight transportation still faces many challenges.
Today, the logistics industry is facing a critical wake-up call as it seeks ways to minimize the environmental impact of trucking. While sailing closer, fleet owners are always striving to improve their bottom line by exploring ways to increase capacity, minimize unnecessary costs and meet ambitious emissions regulations, all while s tackling the uphill battle of global supply chain issues that aren’t going away anytime soon. soon.
As fleet owners address these and other challenges, hydrogen propulsion paired with SAE L4 self-driving technology emerges as a key solution to address each of these concerns.
Managing the shortage of truck drivers
Driver shortages are at an all-time high, even as consumer demand for international products continues to rise. There aren’t enough qualified drivers to sustain the growth and insatiable demand for global goods. The global Covid pandemic has exacerbated these issues, increasing the demand for door-to-door shipping. According to the American Trucking Association, the industry could be short of more than 160,000 drivers nationwide by 2028.
At the same time, drivers have “hours of service” limits that limit the amount of driving they can safely do in a day. As the trucking industry continues to grow, a lack of drivers has hampered growth.
Amid the worker shortage, self-driving trucks may offer a promising way to fill the gap. When combined with the fact that they can operate almost continuously, stopping only for refueling and preventative maintenance, they are a solution that can help the industry win in more ways than one.
Ditch the diesel
Trucking has always been associated with high carbon emission rates and smoggy air quality in exchange for convenience: fresh produce delivered daily to our local stores and our internet packages to our door within two days. the command. In fact, the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2020, the consumption of diesel fuel (distillate) in the transportation sector in the United States resulted in the emission of approximately 432 million tons. metrics of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas. This amount was equivalent to approximately 26% of total CO2 emissions from the transportation sector in the United States.
But diesel has more impact than the environment; it is also subject to unpredictable prices, which affect almost every product we buy. In the past year alone, we’ve seen price increases in everything from groceries to furniture and everyday services. The national average price of diesel increased by 75%, which translated into higher prices on store shelves.
You’ve probably noticed that the price of in-home food has gone up 8.5-9.5% in the last year, and out-of-home food prices have gone up 6-7% and – yes, we can fault diesel that the cost per gallon is now built into these prices. All of these have contributed to rising inflation, which will continue to impact all aspects of the service chain.
The industry needs a more reliable and cost effective way to power up. While many OEMs are considering battery power to minimize emissions, hydrogen is emerging as a strong contender to meet these challenges.
EV vs FCEV
The one hundred percent electric battery has yet to win the race; With all eyes on batteries, hydrogen is poised to disrupt long-haul trucking and offers several advantages over battery-powered electricity. The more the industry looks at hydrogen fuel cell solutions, the more obvious the benefits become.
In addition to offering greater energy storage density than lithium-ion batteries alone, hydrogen offers a significant range advantage for electric vehicles. As we continue to navigate the volatile supply chain, hydrogen is very quick to fill up, often in 20 minutes or less, which helps keep trucks on the road, improving overall capacity. While battery-powered vehicles are subject to long charging times and range anxiety, these are not about hydrogen.
Given that 80% of freight travels along 20% of the country’s highways, if we can automate these highways with shipping lanes and apply the necessary fueling infrastructure, hydrogen becomes an ideal fuel source for trucks. making continuous round trips transporting our goods across the country. .
Rapid progress has been made in the field of autonomous trucking in recent years
At the end of 2021, a manufacturer touted its achievement of a fully automated track and the ability to transport goods without a driver or safety driver in the truck cab. With the number of trucking companies and AI-based technologies rapidly working towards the same achievement, we can expect to see more trucks delivering driverless goods on the road.
Electric trucks can be a smart choice for first- and last-mile operations, but autonomous hydrogen trucks offer greater benefits for long-haul and mid-mile transportation. Of course, the supply infrastructure will need time to mature; When these advancements are in place, businesses will want to reap the financial benefits immediately.
Advances in fuel cell technology are now creditworthy and range has been achieved, however, pairing range with clean hydrogen energy can deliver improved results, increased capacity and reduce emissions. Implementation could take a few years, especially when it comes to building reliable supply networks; but now is the time to start building these networks.
What’s next for autonomous hydrogen trucking?
One thing is certain: these are exciting times for the future of mobility. We expect self-driving hydrogen trucks to be delivered to transportation companies and large commercial fleets within the next few years.
By deploying hydrogen fueling stations along high-volume freight routes, we will be able to focus on high-volume locations and then scale based on demand. For example, the triangle in Texas connecting Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio is a prime example of geographic areas that would benefit from hydrogen refueling infrastructure, and we see others on the map. And given that a majority of freight travels on only about a quarter of the nation’s highways, the most advantageous routes for building a hydrogen fueling network are laid bare.
Our company decided to focus on developing trucks capable of autonomous operations while powered by a clean propulsion system and to work with partners to build a robust fueling network to ensure continued momentum and benefit to the whole sector.
The future of trucking, redefined
As battery and fuel cell technologies continue to co-exist, and stand-alone technology is applied to both, their niches will become more apparent. Battery-powered vehicles will continue to be ideal for shorter distances, while the hydrogen fuel cell offers greater benefits for long-haul applications. However, the greatest overall benefit is expected from the combination of hydrogen and autonomous technology.
Merging autonomous technology with clean hydrogen can help fleets meet the challenges we outlined earlier; support climate goals, keep goods flowing around the clock, reduce costs, and ultimately improve overall supply chain logistics (so we can start to feel a little less guilty for our home delivery purchases).