Without a rapid roll-out of recharging infrastructure across the continent, Europe’s freight operators will continue to choose diesel-powered vehicles over clean alternatives, participants at an event on green road freight have heard.
This article, from the recent IRU EU conference, was originally published by Euractiv
While the freight industry has no affection for diesel vehicles, they remain the most efficient option given the low level of clean refuelling stations across the continent, said Umberto de Pretto, Secretary General of IRU, the road freight transport association.
“If we use diesel trucks, buses and coaches, it’s because our clients are asking us to get something from here to there in the most efficient way we can. If tomorrow they were to say here’s a wonderful [solution] that will get something from here to there as cost effectively and even more quickly than we can do today, then guess what? That’s what we will use,” he said.
“Don’t think that the industry is in love with the vehicles or with the fuel that we use. We use what is efficient, what gets our job done, and allows us to still make a profit,” he added.
De Pretto also warned that the EU “is not an island”, meaning greater green taxation on freight operators may harm Europe’s competitive edge.
“We can achieve the [decarbonisation] targets, we can do it. But let’s not put in place policies that will make economic development something that will be our biggest challenge, where we end up having huge unemployment lines instead of actually having decarbonisation,” he said.
Daniel Mes, an official who works in the team of EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, called the deployment of charging stations the “alpha and omega” of cutting road freight transport emissions.
He urged lawmakers in the Parliament and the Council to push through the Commission’s charging legislation – known as the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) – and criticised member states for trying to water it down.
Whilst acknowledging the difficulty provoked by soaring oil prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mes also threw water on calls for long-term state subsidies to keep fuel prices in check.
“We must be aware of the limits of only talking about [fuel subsidies] because the reality is that state coffers are not unlimited and this situation will unfortunately stay with us for quite some time,” he said.
“When we talk about doing something about petrol prices, it must always be accompanied with clear moves to accelerate the green transition,” he added.
Mes portrayed upcoming EU legislation defining stricter CO2 emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles as a boon to the freight industry, arguing that it will encourage vehicle manufacturers to invest in the production of clean models. The more electric and hydrogen models of coaches and trucks available, the more affordable they become, he said.
In its recently adopted position paper on CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the IRU urges the EU to support industry in switching to hydrogen fuel cell and battery-electric heavy-duty vehicles. The global road transport organisation also comes out against a ban on internal combustion engine vehicles in the short term, arguing that carbon-neutral transport fuels can be used in ICE trucks and coaches.
Repeating that we are living in extraordinary times, Mes said that all decisions surrounding the future of road transport – from politicians, industry, and individuals – must be taken with the well-being of society in mind.
“If we don’t accelerate the green transition now then we are in trouble in building a Europe that is free from fossil fuels from Russia, and safe and secure for us, our children and our future generations,” he said.
Ismail Ertug, a socialist German MEP who is the lead negotiator for AFIR in the EU Parliament, criticised the Council’s stance towards charging infrastructure mandates and called for a quicker roll out.
“The biggest problem of the European Union is the member states,” he said, accusing EU countries of “destroying” previous legislative efforts to impose ambitious clean charging infrastructure requirements.
In its agreed stance on AFIR, the EU Council has sought to water down charging station requirements for areas with low traffic, arguing that proposed EU distance rules between stations should be scrapped along roads that see little traffic.
“We have different member states with different standards, but in the end we have to spread out these new technologies and the new kind of fuels… the different use cases makes it challenging but it’s not rocket science anymore,” said Ertug.
“We have the technologies, we know how to implement it, we know the grid capacities of the member states, and we know the European Commission’s proposal.”
Over time, Ertug predicted a 70% – 30% split between battery electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles, which he said bolsters the case for investing in charging infrastructure for both power types.
Gerrit Marx, CEO of truck manufacturer group IVECO, called for member states to face penalties if they fail to meet charging infrastructure targets. Without the requisite infrastructure, vehicle manufacturers will be unable to sell clean vehicles, he said.