They are not Dakar or Formula 1 drivers, but in Spain there are 360,000 truck drivers whose skill behind the wheel – when to brake or change gears, how to take advantage of inertia or anticipate unforeseen events – has great repercussions. These skills, which transport companies teach today, reduce fuel consumption by 7%, according to Astic, the leading association of freight transport in Spain. Other solutions also contribute to this mission against the carbon footprint, such as the use of renewable fuels or technologies that help decide the best routes. A “tremendous challenge” given the magnitude of the sector, explains Ramón Valdivia, vice president of Astic: “Heavy road transport moves 97% of the goods in the Iberian Peninsula. “Practically all goods go by road in Spain.”
Heavy road transport – transport that moves heavy loads unlike, for example, postal delivery or e-commerce home deliveries – has not stopped growing in the last 20 years. “The conquest of European markets has been unstoppable. The national goods are of quality and the Central European countries trust a lot in the service, punctual and with few failures,” explains Valdivia. The mobility of goods by truck largely overshadows other means – air, sea, rail – “residual due to factors such as price or the geographical conditions of Spain.”
Fuels from used oil
In this century, explains Valdivia, the fuel consumption of trucks has been reduced by 20%: “The machine is increasingly more efficient, but the growth in the number of units exceeds this improvement. That is why we have to look for alternatives.” One of them is renewable fuels, which are produced from waste such as used vegetable oils. Large operators such as Sesé, Scania, Iveco or XPO have already begun to use them on their routes. Its main advantage is compatibility with current combustion engines: “The European diesel engine is one of the best and most reliable. These fuels could be used in the entire fleet, new and old. We would advance a lot,” says Valdivia. Likewise, the vehicles would be supplied with the existing network of some 125,000 service stations in Europe.
José Luis García Montes-Jovellar, responsible for fuel sales to professional fleets at Repsol, whose job consists of acting as a link with operators, explains that one of the points that he usually clarifies for companies is that with a fuel made with vegetable oil The engine moves the same and, effectively, has the same performance. “There is a self-demand for social commitment to reduce the environmental impact on the routes. It is a fine rain: first the big ones are using it and then we hope that it will penetrate the market,” he contextualizes.
Production and price
Is there enough production to supply the nearly 500 kilometers on average that, according to the manufacturer Iveco, each of the 360,000 trucks circulating in Spain travel per day? García Montes-Jovellar affirms that it will grow hand in hand with demand: “In 2030 we estimate a production of two million tons. “Enough to power about 35% of the national fleet of heavy vehicles.” Used vegetable oil will not be the only waste with which to make fuel: forestry, agricultural or urban waste will also be used. There are currently 23 service stations, 19 in Spain and four in Portugal, that supply renewable fuels in the main corridors. By the end of the year, the Repsol expert estimates, there will be around 50.
The other factor for these fuels to extend their use – currently gasoline and diesel already contain more than 10% renewable component by law – will depend on the price, understands García Montes-Jovellar, from Repsol: “As they reach a scale of industrial production, the price will become more competitive.”
Other energy solutions are electric vehicles, hydrogen cells or CNG, already in use and development. Valdivia, from Astic, argues that, for the moment, the most feasible “due to price, production capacity, infrastructure, technological maturity and application” are renewable fuels. “There are no solutions even remotely equivalent to combustion,” he maintains. In his opinion it is also the only way, for the moment, to maintain the accumulated knowledge about the combustion engine. “We have a lot of know-how in repair and maintenance, we are very efficient. We can not fail. With combustion engines we would preserve it.”
The key in the race against climate change, García Montes-Jovellar concludes, is technological neutrality, that is, the parallel and non-exclusive advance of the different decarbonization solutions. “The market is quite aseptic and the alternatives must coexist. In an urban environment or for the last mile (the final transportation of merchandise), for example, the electric vehicle seems the best solution. “We need a mix of technologies according to the different needs and demands of mobility.”
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