This week is my first anniversary as a battery electric vehicle driver. My previous car had reached the end of its economic life and I had promised myself that my next vehicle would be electric. There is little to say about that first year. The car is a dream to drive. Quiet and powerful enough for my needs. A slight twinge of range anxiety on my first long drive, but charging on the road has been straightforward—just one occasion when I needed to queue for a charge point.
For several years I have been visiting the Low Carbon Vehicles show at Millbrook. It’s a great way to keep up with trends. This year’s show was in September, and I had an enjoyable visit. I am less interested in single amazing pieces of technology; more where the centre of gravity is. What are the most talked about topics? These are the themes that struck me this year.
Ariel HIPERCAR 2– a street-legal electric supercar
Plenty of passenger cars on display, but a much stronger focus on logistics than I have seen before. Everything from small 3-wheelers for last mile delivery to big trucks.
3-wheeled moped with cargo box for last mile delivery and electric truck tractor unit
One of the most interesting vehicles on display was a battery EV version of the iconic Ford Transit van, the e-Transit. With a range of nearly 200 miles and the same load capacity as the ICE version, this is a game changer. It makes EVs viable for delivery drivers and tradespeople. The classic ‘white van man’.
Ford’s New e-Transit Van
The Battery Electric Truck Trial (BETT) is using 19-tonne DAF EV trucks with public sector fleets across the North-West of England. To date (25th October 2022), 19 trucks are in use. These have:
- Made 4,734 journeys
- Covered 84,094 km
- Travelled an average of 296 km on a full charge
- Spent 2 hours 21 minutes charging per day
Charging infrastructure for such big energy users is a problem. Depots may need to have the grid connection uprated and finding powerful enough fast chargers on the road is not easy. So at this stage, electric trucks are fine up to 150 km, probably OK to 300 km, but not ready for longer journeys.
Some big logistics users were presenting their plans.
The NHS produces 5% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and 40% of public sector emissions. The NHS also accounts for 3.5% of all road travel in the UK – 15.3 billion km a year. That is a lot of carbon to be saved, but their biggest concern is air pollution. Poor air quality causes 1 in 20 deaths in the UK, and with 52% of NOx and 12% of particulates coming from road transport, cutting emissions from transport is a big target for the NHS.
19-tonne DAF Electric Truck used by the NHS in the BETT programme
Apart from participating in the BETT programme, the NHS is developing a new supplier framework to encourage all of its suppliers and partners to report and manage their emissions towards net-zero.
As a major logistics company, DHL has a big carbon footprint. 22% of their emissions come from road transportation and 80% of that from trucks. DHL will invest €7 billion by 2030 in clean operations and climate-neutral logistics solutions. They will electrify 60% of the last-mile fleet, putting over 80,000 e-vehicles on the road.
The shift in road freight from internal combustion engines to low-carbon vehicles is gathering pace.
Better battery systems
As one of the most critical components in an EV, there is continuous and rapid innovation in batteries. The focus at LCV 2022 was on faster charging and more power. Faster charging to make EVs more user friendly, and higher power to meet the demands of the premium market. To meet these needs, battery manufacturers are pushing to higher voltages and better thermal management, making it quicker to put energy into a battery and take it out again.
ADAS not autonomy
The debate on autonomous vehicles has shifted subtly over the years. Away from full automation with no driver involvement towards a focus on advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Experts expect full autonomy only in controlled environments – such as factories and warehouses. Passenger vehicles will progressively increase the amount of help given to drivers from active cruise control and lane warnings to automatic parking, collision avoidance and lane switching. This will improve safety and could increase road capacity.
Fully autonomous vehicles on open streets are still the goal, but it has moved further away as the practical difficulties become more obvious.
Hydrogen still in the game
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were still on display, but the focus was on niche applications and not general-purpose passenger vehicles. Battery EVs have won that battle. You must use green hydrogen to avoid emissions and that means starting with low-carbon electricity. The wind-to-wheel efficiency of a battery EV is nearly twice that of a fuel cell EV using hydrogen. So, if you have low carbon electricity, why go through the extra step of converting to hydrogen and then back to electricity? In the market, the number of battery EVs is growing fast, whereas fuel cell EV sales have stalled. Shell has just announced that they are closing their UK hydrogen refuelling stations. We need green hydrogen for other more important industrial uses, and in the popular Clean Hydrogen Ladder, road transportation comes well down the list.
There were several hydrogen vehicles on display, but these were mostly high duty-cycle, return to base, commercial vehicles like waste collection wagons.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Waste Collection Truck
What LCV 2022 showed is that low-carbon vehicles, and specifically battery EVs are rapidly becoming mainstream. Just as wind and solar are now the cheapest forms of new electricity capacity over most of the globe. EVs are winning hte economic argument for an increasing number of applications.