A new-age battle in the future for sustainable fuel alternatives

In almost every sector of the transportation industry, companies are turning their attention toward viable options to reduce their carbon footprints. The discovery of new opportunities and solutions helping meet a company’s sustainability goals is enticing, and the number of new developments on the market is strong.

While there have been many advances in the realm of cleaner fuel over the last 40 years, we still have a long way to go. But, just like there is more than one way to peel an orange, there’s more than one way to power a truck. Hydrogen-powered and electric semi-trucks are taking the driver’s seat on the road to a greener future.

Electric Semi-Trucks

One of the most popular and rapidly advancing technologies in the race for cleaner transportation energy is electricity. Instead of fuel, electric semis run on batteries, specifically lithium-ion batteries, to power their engines, helping decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

The manufacturers of electric semis claim that these trucks will cost less to maintain than traditional rigs over the vehicles’ lifetime and operate more quietly. Many different versions of this battery technology have been tested, including a version allowing batteries to be swapped out quickly and easily. This results in less downtime than waiting for a battery to recharge.

The idea of a rechargeable mode of transportation isn’t entirely new, as many non-commercial vehicles are already taking advantage of the technology. However, moving a larger, heavier vehicle requires a larger and more expensive battery and more frequent charging opportunities. Currently, many states are working to build more robust charging stations and improve current infrastructure to prepare for more demand.

Electrical grids, their infrastructure and their frequency/availability must be improved before electric semis can inhabit a larger and long-term part of the transport ecosystem. These improvements will play a vital role in the success of carbon neutralizing transportation opportunities.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Another alternative energy source experiencing recent growth is hydrogen fuel cells. Although currently less-developed as battery solutions, hydrogen fuel cells have the potential to be a very clean and efficient fuel source.

Like today’s combustion engines, fuel cells consume fuel (in this case, hydrogen) in order to generate power continuously. This means that they can be refueled just as quickly as gas-powered engines, a current pain point for battery-powered systems. Fuel cells are also more efficient than combustion engines, meaning they produce more energy from the same volume of fuel. Additionally, the only emission produced from hydrogen fuel cells is water vapor.

However, these systems aren’t without their own drawbacks and improvements needed. Hydrogen, while abundant, needs to be extracted from other sources like natural gas or water. A substantial investment in production would be needed to make hydrogen a widely available fuel source. Fortunately, some states have already started, like California.

The Effect on the Diesel and Diesel Truck Market

While the use of more carbon neutral energy sources will have a significant impact on the diesel market over time, it will take time before any noticeable changes are seen. The production of alternate fueled semis is still very low, while the sticker price remains high.

Sustainable transportation solutions are within sight, but there are many changes and investments needed on an infrastructural level before the transportation industry is ready to make the leap towards entirely sustainable fleets.