Electrification of road transport is gaining momentum as a solution for long-term decarbonisation of the global transportation sector.For light-duty vehicles, direct electrification with batteries is a promising and energy-efficient candidate for reducing CO2 and other harmful emissions. It is also a potential solution for heavy-duty trucks with short-range requirements and frequent stops and starts operating in urban areas.
However, for most heavy-duty freight transport, direct electrification with batteries is challenging given the energy storage requirements for long-range operations carrying heavy payloads. The future of heavy-duty freight carriers is most likely to be a combination of different drivetrain technologies designed to meet specific demands and operations in specific areas.
Worldwide the interest in the green transition of the transportation sector has increased significantly within the past years, and the focus is going beyond direct electrification.
Renewable electricity can be turned into liquid methanol as an alternative fuel to diesel for internal combustion engines.
These “electro-fuels” are highly compatible with existing distribution and refuelling technologies enabling a cost-effective, safe, and flexible transition from fossil-based fuels to renewable and CO2-neutral fuels.
Another alternative is indirect electrification with renewable methanol in combination with fuel cell technology.
Fuel cells are a prominent technology for indirect electrification through renewably produced methanol to overcome the inherent disadvantages of batteries in heavy-duty applications.
A methanol fuel cell drivetrain is equipped with an onboard reformer converting the liquid methanol into a hydrogen-rich gas. The fuel cell converts the reformate gas into electricity powering the electric motors. The combination of onboard reforming and high-temperature fuel cells offers high electrical efficiency while eliminating NOx and particulate emissions.
Methanol from biomass and renewable origin also eliminates CO2 emissions from a well-to-wheel perspective and truly enables CO2-neutral mobility.
Methanol is a high-density energy carrier which is liquid at atmospheric pressure making it simple and cost-effective to refuel and store in large volumes onboard heavy-duty vehicles.
A high drivetrain energy density enabling equivalent payload to today’s diesel trucks is an essential element for transportation companies. Compared to hydrogen-powered fuel cells, a methanol fuel cell system eliminates some of the difficult challenges linked to handling and distribution, infrastructure investments, and low volumetric energy density.
Methanol is already commonly used in the industry, and therefore widely available around the globe. Today, methanol is mainly produced from natural gas and coal, however, with the expansion of renewable electricity from wind and solar, businesses throughout Europe are already exploring the potential of converting different feedstocks, including renewable electricity, biomass and solid waste, into methanol.
In China, Geely has developed the world’s first pure methanol combustion heavy-duty truck providing significant reductions of CO2 and other tailpipe emissions.
A methanol/gasoline blended fuel for existing gasoline vehicles is a cost-effective approach for achieving CO2 reductions while avoiding massive investments in new vehicles and infrastructure development, as methanol is compatible with the existing refuelling facilities.
Mads Friis Jensen, chief commercial officer and co-founder, Blue World Technologies
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