The adoption of climate- friendly trucks is limited only by biofuels, which are in short supply and uneven in quality, Volvo’s CEO said Sept. 19.
“The technology exists, but we need the fuels,” Leif Johansson, chief executive officer of the Volvo Group, told journalists and public policy experts in Brussels, Belgium.
To prove Johansson’s point, Volvo rolled out for its invited guests — including CCJ‘s editorial director — seven heavy-duty Volvo trucks, each powered by a different renewable substitute for petroleum-based diesel fuel. The seven Volvo FM trucks, first exhibited in August in Stockholm, are equipped with Volvo’s own 9-liter diesel engines that have been modified by Volvo Group engineers.
While the engines could be available immediately, the supply of biofuels is quite small, Johansson said, adding that far more money has been spent in North America than in Europe toward developing alternative fuels. Indeed, availability is so tight that it threatened Volvo’s demonstration in Brussels. “We were concerned about the ability of one of the trucks to roll on the 3 liters of fuel we were able to get today,” Johansson said.
Because all these fuels are made from renewable raw materials, unlike fossil fuels, their combustion adds no net carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, Volvo says, which leads the company to call these demonstration trucks “CO2-free.”
Johansson identified three principal reasons for adopting what it calls “CO2-free transport”: Climate change, oil production approaching its peak, and the political uncertainty that is largely responsible for record crude oil prices. Any one of those factors could be a compelling reason to shift to fuels that don’t rely as much on petroleum-based diesel, Johansson said.
The seven fuels or combinations of fuels that power Volvo’s “CO2-free” trucks are:
“The diesel engine is an extremely efficient energy converter that is perfectly suited to many different renewable fuels, liquid or gaseous,” said Jan-Eric Sundgren, senior vice president of public and environmental affairs for the Volvo Group.
Volvo has analyzed each of the fuels and combinations on the basis of several criteria, including environmental impact, energy efficiency, land use and fuel availability and cost, among others. Which fuel is the “best” depends on which factor is the priority, but so-called “second generation” biofuels — those produced from a gasification process — generally hold the greatest promise, Volvo said.
“The best thing would be if there were a globalized standard alternative fuel,” Johansson said, noting that a single fuel would introduce economies of scale that would minimize equipment and fuel cost. But political and economic realities are a hurdle to that best-case scenario. “We most likely will have to accept that there will be different applications and fuels around the world,” he said.