Pursuing a zero-emissions future

Shell has an ambitious plan to become a zero-emissions energy business by 2050. Selda Gunsel, vice-president of global commercial fuels technologies with Shell Lubricants outlined the roadmap to that eventuality during a webinar March 25.

It’s a five-pronged strategy that involves: increasing the production and availability of hydrogen for fuel cell trucks; expanding electric charging infrastructure, products and services; developing low-carbon fuels such as natural gas and biofuels; helping to advance a decarbonization policy framework with other stakeholders; and reducing the emissions of its own fleet of 3,000 vehicles by 10% by 2025 and completely by 2050.

“There is not a single solution or silver bullet to achieve this target,” Gunsel said. However, when its targets are reached, Shell will have eliminated more than 700,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year, equal to driving a Ford F-150 more than 1.5 billion miles.

For now, carbon offset programs are a way Shell balances its CO2 emissions. Shell is also working to optimize the efficiency of its product development and design processes, for example by using more recycled content in bottles. It’s also forging ahead with more efficient low-viscosity oils.

“We are doing some groundbreaking research developing a 0W grade lubricant for heavy-duty engines,” she said. “We hope to lead the industry in this space.”

Gunsel noted there are about 3 million companies operating some 217 million trucks and buses, which contribute 9% of global C02 emissions, more than shipping and aviation combined.

Operators of those trucks are eager to do their part, said Drew Cullen, senior vice-president of fuels and facility services for Penske Transportation Solutions.

“Nobody in the transportation industry woke up this morning and said ‘Gee, how can I use more diesel fuel today?’ They are all about these solutions and trying to get them in place,” he said.

(Photo: James Menzies)

Penske’s role in this is helping customers to spec’ and operate the most efficient vehicles for the job, and to ensure proper maintenance programs are in place. More recently, it has been helping fleets to deploy battery electric trucks.

“When we talk to them today, a lot of the conversations are around zero emissions technologies and specifically battery electric vehicles (BEVs),” he said. Penske today has about 100 BEVs on the road, and built a DC fast-charging network in Southern California.

It hasn’t been an easy process, Cullen acknowledged. He urged fleets looking to electrify to choose good partners to work with.

“One thing we found is that you don’t overcome these challenges and you can’t turn them into opportunities without strong partnerships and relationships,” he said.

While electric truck operators initially experienced range anxiety – nervousness about running out of a charge before they complete their route – a funny thing happened.

“The state of charge when the vehicles came back from their routes was initially about 7-8%,” Cullen said. “As time went on, we saw the state of charges coming back at 10%, 12%, 15%. Drivers were figuring out how to use the regenerative braking, and when to use and not use the power that’s available from the electric motors.”

But for BEVs to really catch on, Cullen said government incentives are still required.

“Costs will get better but grants and funding are really required in the short-term, maybe even medium-term,” he said. “We’d all like to see sometime between now and 30 years from now, it get to the point where it all stands on its own and makes economic sense for everyone involved.”

For now, we’re in the “messy middle,” according to Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). In the future, he said it’s becoming clearer that BEVs will thrive in urban, shorthaul applications, while hydrogen fuel cell will find a home in longhaul.

“We believe battery electric and hydrogen will win out over the 30-year timeframe,” he said. “There are some great solutions in the interim, including biofuels and hybridization.”

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • While Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada — even Russia, and Saudi Arabia — are busy laying out plans for hydrogen, the folks at our Department of Energy are paralyzed trying to figure out which will come first — the hydrogen infrastructure or the hydrogen industry itself that will need to use it. Meanwhile, our oil companies, as well as our car companies, have buried their heads in the sand. Oil companies want to drill for more oil when demand for it is diminishing and car companies want to make battery cars when we have no grid capacity to charge them. And we are frantically searching for the ideal battery, ignoring the fact that even if we find it, it will still need to be charged through our anemic grid.
    If hydrogen is indeed our only effective means to fight climate change at scale, then we should start with the hydrogen infrastructure itself. Why make it a two-step solution (battery-hydrogen) when we can go directly to hydrogen and get there faster? Even our present two-step solution will need hydrogen. That is correct, the proponents of battery cars that have been busy ridiculing hydrogen will need it themselves to power hydrogen generators to charge their battery cars. And of course, we will need to deliver hydrogen to our factories to make steel, cement, and fertilizer — and to power our airplanes before it becomes unpopular to fly with jet fuel.
    But how would we be able to deliver all this hydrogen across our vast land? The same way we deliver natural gas — with pipelines. Indeed, we can even use our existing gas pipelines if we simply reline them with plastic inserts, as they are doing now in the UK — or as we are doing here when steel pipes start leaking. And as far as setting up the hydrogen infrastructure is concerned; we should stop conflating the source of the hydrogen with the means of delivering it. One has nothing to do with the other. Arguments against the source of hydrogen should not get in the way of us setting up a safe and efficient way to deliver it to those that need it