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CO2-free truck?

BRUSSELS, Belgium - It has been 18 years since the release of the movie Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner played the role of an Iowa farmer who could not ignore the voices in his head that repea...

BRUSSELS, Belgium – It has been 18 years since the release of the movie Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner played the role of an Iowa farmer who could not ignore the voices in his head that repeatedly whispered: “If you build it, they will come.”

In the movie, Costner’s character took a leap of faith and constructed a full-sized ball diamond in his cornfield. He was rewarded when the ghosts of legendary ball players from the 1919 New York Yankees appeared from the corn and took to the diamond.

Having recently built seven different types of CO2-free trucks, Volvo Group is hoping it will have a similar result, and that fuel manufacturers will now come to the table with the bio-fuels required to make the trucks economically-viable.

Volvo is the first truck maker to develop functional trucks that can be operated with no CO2 emissions. Seven demonstration trucks operating on seven different alternative fuels were unveiled at the recent European Transport Forum in Brussels, Belgium.

“Volvo is part of the climate problem,” admitted Volvo Group CEO, Leif Johansson. “But with these trucks we show that carbon-dioxide free transport is a possibility and that we as a vehicle manufacturer both can and will be part of the solution to the climate issue.”

Truck manufacturers already have made significant strides towards reducing the emissions created by their vehicles.

To date, particulate matter and NOx have been reduced by about 90% – but all the while, CO2 emissions have been increasing.

About 14% of global CO2 emissions have been traced back to the transport sector with highway transport accounting for 10%. Volvo Group has concluded road cargo transport itself is responsible for about 4-5% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

CO2 is a contributor to greenhouse gases and it’s widely expected the EPA will set its sights on carbon dioxide during subsequent rounds of emissions restrictions.

Volvo Group is one step ahead of the EPA, but it says it needs fuel producers to begin marketing second generation bio-fuels in order to make the CO2-free truck feasible.

The seven trucks on display in Brussels each featured Volvo’s 9-litre diesel engines, which had been modified to run on seven different alternative fuels. They include: biodiesel; biogas; biogas combined with biodiesel; ethanol/methanol; DME; synthetic diesel; and hydrogen gas combined with biogas.

Biodiesel: Produced by the esterification of vegetable oils such as rapeseed oil and sunflower seed oil. In North America, corn is the most common base crop for biodiesel.

Biogas: A gaseous fuel comprised largely of hydrocarboned methane. It can be extracted from sewage and landfill sites.

Biogas and biodiesel: A combination of biogas and biodiesel, housed in separate tanks and requiring separate injection systems. A small amount of biodiesel is used to achieve compression ignition. The biogas is used in cooled, liquid form.

DME (Dimethyl ether): A gas that is handled in liquid form under low pressure, produced through the gasification of biomass.

Ethanol/methanol: Methanol is produced through the gasification of biomass and ethanol through the fermentation of crops rich in sugar and starch.

Synthetic diesel: A mixture of synthetically-manufactured hydrocarbon produced through the gasification of biomass. It can be mixed with conventional diesel fuel.

Hydrogen gas and biogas: Hydrogen gas is mixed in small volumes with compressed biogas.

“The diesel engine is an extremely efficient energy converter that is perfectly suited to many different renewable fuels, liquid or gaseous,” explained Jan-Eric Sundgren, senior vice-president, public and environmental affairs with Volvo.

The alternative fuel ultimately selected for widespread use will depend on many factors, including geography, Johansson said. Countries such as Canada, which have ready access to an abundant supply of trees, may favour DME and methanol produced from black liquor while European countries may prefer rapeseed-based biodiesel. The potential use of black liquor as a source for bio-fuels should come as welcomed news to Canada’s ailing pulp and paper industry, since black liquor is a residual product created by the wood pulp industry.

Volvo has analyzed each of the seven bio-fuels (as well as others) and conducted detailed ‘well-to-wheel’ analyses which consider: climate impact; energy efficiency; land use efficiency; fuel potential; vehicle adaptation; fuel cost; and fuel infrastructure.

The company found gasification (conversion of a solid material into a gas to be used as fuel) holds much promise, since it generates large volumes and can be drawn from a variety of fuel types.

“Gasification is a promising line that may lead to a significantly larger substitution than today’s technology,” explained Johansson.

Fuels produced via gasification proved to be the best in terms of climate impact with ethanol and biodiesel scoring the worst. DME and methanol were the best performers in terms of energy efficiency (the proportion of energy reaching the vehicle’s wheels) with ethanol and biogas performing the worst in this category.

As far as cost goes, it really depends on production methods, explained Johansson. DME and methanol could be produced for as little as 24% and 27% respectively less than today’s diesel, provided they are manufactured via gasification using black liquor. Synthetic diesel and ethanol will be among the priciest options, according to Volvo Group’s findings.

Now that Volvo has demonstrated it’s capable of producing CO2-free trucks, it’s time for the fuel manufacturers to step up, Johansson said at the European Transport Forum.

“With these vehicles, we have shown that Volvo is ready, that we possess the technology and the resources for CO2-free transport, but we cannot do this alone,” Johansson prodded.

“We also require large-scale production of renewable fuels and putting such production in operation requires extensive investments in research and development, and also well-defined, common guidelines from authorities in as many countries as possible.”

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