Charging cement logistics

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This article was published in the May issue of International Cement Review in 2022.

Electric vehicle (EV) cars have taken the fast lane on the road to net zero. Commercial vehicles lag behind, but it is no secret that the adoption of battery-powered, heavy-duty trucks will accelerate in the years ahead. This article looks at the “current” trends in heavy-duty electric trucking and outlines what impact these will have on logistics planning processes in the cement industry.

■ by Thomas Bergmans and Dirk Schlemper, INFORM, Germany

Diesel is still king on the road – there is no doubt about it. However, efforts to reduce CO2 and GHG emissions by truck manufacturers have made strong gains over the past two decades. Today’s heavyduty diesel-powered trucks are cleaner than ever. And this is not yet the end of the line for internal combustion engines. In 2019, for example, the EU’s first-ever CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles were approved. New trucks sold from 2025 will be required to emit 15 per cent less CO2 compared to 2019 levels, and starting in 2030 new trucks must emit a third less CO2.

This is good news for the environment, but investments in new technologies required to fulfil these emission levels will make new trucks more expensive. As a consequence, fleet owners may decide to hold on to their older, less environmentally clean and less fuel efficient trucks for longer periods of time. Moreover, if we look at the overall transport volume of the building materials industry, tailpipes of diesel-powered tucks will still produce significant GHG emissions in 2030.

Electric heavy-duty trucks could be a way out of this dilemma as they promise zero emissions and lower cost of ownership. Compared to the electric vehicle (EV) passenger car market, EV truck manufacturers still have a fair way to travel to accelerate the widespread adoption of
battery-powered trucks. However, cement and ready-mix producers should start considering the impact this will have on their logistics planning processes now.

Sparking adoption

Recent advances in technology and changes in legislation are creating market conditions that are increasingly favourable for electrification. The boldest move has been in California where by 2045 every new truck sold will have to be zero emission. In effect, the California Air Resources Board has ordered manufacturers of mediumand heavy-duty commercial trucks to begin selling zero emission versions from 2024, resulting in 15 per cent of trucks on the road being electric by 2035. That will amount to roughly 300,000 of about 1.9m total trucks expected on California roads that year.

In addition, more and more cities are imposing access restrictions for diesel trucks. Thus, it will not only be a question of economics but also a question of “still being able” to serve customers. Also, noise levels are considerably lower compared to diesel trucks, making EV trucks the ideal vehicle for congested areas and city centres. They also provide greater flexibility to operate after hours in residential areas where stricter noise restrictions apply. In 2020 Swedish ready-mix concrete products manufacturer Swerock began trialling two fully electric construction trucks in Gothenburg. In 2021 Holcim Switzerland used three electric concrete mixer trucks in cities including Zurich and Basel. Moreover, Cemex recently announced earlier this year that it is the first building materials company to complete a large-scale, multicountry pilot using fully electric ready-mix concrete trucks. An initial, successful trial was carried out in Germany, followed by a further trial in France.

An increasing number of producers expect to gradually introduce zero emission trucks to their fleets. The authors are confident that truck manufacturers and conversion companies are capable of engineering reliably working trucks – hence pilot use will almost certainly be a success. The real challenges will arise from putting larger fleets of EV trucks to work.

Concrete mixer trucks are suitable for electrification, as the distances from batching plants to construction sites are relatively short compared to cement shipments. However, with continuing advancements in battery range, long-haul cement bulk trucks are set to hit the road soon. Strictly speaking, when discussing electric concrete mixers, it is important to differentiate between “fully electric” and “hybrid” models. Fully electric means the truck and the drum are electric-powered. Hybrid means that only the drum drive is electric. Both options are good for the environment, but a mixed fleet of diesel and electric trucks – be it in cement, ready-mix or aggregates logistics – will bring new challenges to daily dispatch planning.

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