Comment: Running on fumes06 February 2024

diesel propulsion hydrogen

Two alternatives to diesel propulsion are profiled this month, both based on hydrogen (see p18). It’s exciting to see the arrival of promising candidates for decarbonisation of the heaviest HGVs, and these are just two of many R&D projects based around the carbon-free gas.

They presume that there is an economical way to make blue hydrogen (which does not involve fossil fuels) alongside already-proven industrial processes.

But without diesel’s extensive production and distribution infrastructure, hydrogen is likely to be expensive. At least, some designers are already making that assumption. Tom Mason at Bramble points out that the thermal efficiency of its hydrogen fuel cells is a key competitive advantage.

Energy efficiency is equally important for makers of electric vehicles. Speaking of which, new research (p15) shows that it is possible to make investment in EVs pay over a term as short as five years, with certain charging arrangements. The UK’s biggest EV trial so far, profiled on p12, also demonstrated that a return on investment is possible in the medium term.

What all of this really means is that decarbonised fuel, and decarbonised powertrains, will cost more than DERV. And that may pose a major problem for many private-sector operators, whose profits are already running on fumes.

Help may come from an unexpected corner: the leasing industry. Compared to the continent, a relatively high proportion of new vehicles in the UK are bought with finance rather than outright. That kind of up-front funding is essential to make expensive alternative powertrains affordable. So decarbonisation of private-sector haulage in the UK may ultimately depend on the cost of borrowing; in other words, interest rates.

It’s been a pleasure to edit this magazine over the past seven years. Before I drive off to other editorial adventures, I hand over the reins to contributing editor John Challen, who helped launch the contract for publisher

MA Business in 2010. His appointment is an example of an important maxim about technology: plus ça change, plus

c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Thanks for your support, and best wishes for your future journeys.

Will Dalrymple

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