In Dialogue with Logistics

E-mobility reloaded


Sascha Hähnke on new developments in alternative propulsion and e-mobility

Whether on narrow city streets or on highways, the pressure to reduce CO2 emissions in freight transport is growing. European manufacturers have already introduced initial prototypes of electric or even hydrogen-powered trucks on the market. It’s time to take stock and see where the future of e-mobility in road transport is headed.

Sascha Hähnke, who was previously a guest on the first episode of Logistics People Talk, is back. He brings not only updates on sustainable transport solutions projects at Rhenus, he also highlights what’s different at REMONDIS, a sister company of Rhenus. Since February 2023, Sascha Hähnke has been the Managing Director of REMONDIS Sustainable Services. REMONDIS is a leading company in the recycling and water management sector and is increasingly adopting alternative propulsion in its own fleet.

According to Hähnke, what sets this industry apart are the pressure and requirements stipulated by municipalities and public institutions as partners and customers, which are driving the development of sustainable transport solutions. These investments are now supported by official funding programmes that subsidise up to 80% of the price difference between diesel and electric or hydrogen-powered trucks. In the case of charging infrastructure, even 80% of the total costs are subsidised. “However, that still leaves 20% of the additional costs for these vehicles, which often have a price tag of more than € 400,000. We don’t receive this pioneering work as a gift from the government,” Hähnke emphasises.

Nevertheless, he continues to accompany the development of alternative propulsion in the transport business of the Rhenus Group, including innovation topics, customer trials and prototype projects. In the podcast, he describes the progress in ongoing tests for hydrogen and long-range electric propulsion, as well as the developments for combustion engines using HVO as a synthetic fuel. “Electric trucks are no longer just prototypes. There are now enough manufacturers that are capable of delivering and whose concepts are mature,” Hähnke rejoices about the progress.

He believes that all developed alternative propulsion systems will have their justification. The challenge, he emphasises, will be to establish parallel refuelling and charging infrastructure for electric charging stations, hydrogen and traditional fuels, and to provide enough charging stations for both passenger and freight transport. Fantasy or vision of the future? Find out in the latest episode of Logistics People Talk.


Please note: This episode is only available in German. You can find the English transcript below.

Podcast Cover Episode 18

Logistics People Talk | Episode 18

Sascha Hähnke is back as a guest and reports on advancements in alternative propulsion and e-mobility in road transport. The current challenge: establishing parallel refuelling and charging infrastructure for combustion and electric engines.

Transcript of our podcast episode

Gwen Dünner: Servus and a warm welcome to you. Welcome to today’s episode of Logistics People Talk from transport logistic in Munich. After a four-year pandemic break, the logistics world is getting rolling again here, and we also have a reunion with Sascha Hähnke and an update on alternative drives in road transport. We are your hosts ...

Andrea Goretzki: Andrea Goretzki ...

Gwen Dünner: and Gwen Dünner.

Andrea Goretzki: Our first episode, E-mobility from April 2021, is still our most listened to episode. So we obviously hit a nerve with the topic. In addition, further developments have spurred on the topic in the last two years. That is reason enough for us to follow up once again. I would like to welcome Sascha Hähnke very, very warmly to our trade fair studio. Hello, Mr Hähnke. It’s great that you are here today and that you have taken the time for us.

Sascha Hähnke: Hello and good morning! Thank you very much for the invitation. If the first episode was the most listened to, then the way it is at Rhenus is that we can only have one goal: this one has to be even better.

Andrea Goretzki: Exactly, yes.

Gwen Dünner: Let’s have a look. Mr Hähnke, back then we welcomed you as Managing Director of Rhenus Transport. But meanwhile things have changed, not only for you but also in the field of electromobility. Tell us about it.

Sascha Hähnke: I have been with the sister company since February. I work for a company called REMONDIS Sustainable Services. The name says it all, and I was able to turn my hobby into my profession. You know that I used to do this part-time. I always had to steal it before my time and the subject grew more and more within the group. Then I actually got the chance at REMONDIS to turn my hobby into a profession. Incidentally, few people can say that about themselves and there is really only one reason for this. The vehicle fleet at REMONDIS is much larger than at Rhenus. No, there is not only one reason. The second is that REMONDIS is on the road in the city centre with these collection vehicles and the pressure to save CO₂ in road haulage is faster and greater in the city centre than on the motorway. Those are actually the two reasons why I did this.

Andrea Goretzki: 10,000 vehicles sounds impressive at first, but what is it like? Isn’t such a huge electric fleet also quite expensive, or is it worth it from an economic point of view?

Sascha Hähnke: Yes, it is expensive, and it’s still like two years ago. At Rhenus Trucking, we started very early together with Contargo. Yesterday I was at an event organised by the Verkehrsrundschau and met colleagues there, logistics company owners and managing directors of logistics companies, who laughed at me or us back then about the nonsense we were starting and all that. They are no longer laughing.

Andrea Goretzki: No, now you are laughing.

Sascha Hähnke: Exactly. Contargo’s fleet has been significantly expanded together with Rhenus. There is a subsidy programme. When we started back then, there was, I think, 30,000 or 40,000 euros for a vehicle which cost 400,000. Now there is a so-called KsNI subsidy programme. It subsidises 80 per cent of the difference between the cost of a diesel and an electric or hydrogen truck, and even 80 per cent of the full cost of the charging infrastructure. That makes the pain more bearable, but it’s still 20 per cent extra cost. Not that anyone now believes that we are being given this development and pioneering work by the state as a gift. That is far from being the case. This is neither the case at Rhenus nor at REMONDIS. Then I am allowed to continue with innovation topics, customer testing, prototype stories for Rhenus. I am very pleased about that. So these are the overarching themes. There are enough manufacturers who are now ready to deliver. It’s all mature, what we did back then. That was real pioneering work. In the meantime, these are series-produced vehicles. You can now order from four or five manufacturers just like you used to order a diesel. Nobody needs me at Rhenus for that anymore. But I am still allowed to take part in these overriding and innovative topics for Rhenus. That is great fun.

Andrea Goretzki: Could you perhaps say something more about how the fleets at Rhenus and REMONDIS are now divided up? How many of them are already powered by alternative drives? What is still on the road conventionally?

Sascha Hähnke: A lot has happened since then. We started with six or seven cars at Contargo. Together with Rhenus Trucking, the path has continued. With this funding I just mentioned, there are calls, i.e. deadlines, where you can submit applications. In the first call, Contargo was granted another 28 heavy trucks. That’s what it’s called. We received a nice certificate in Berlin. It all took a long time, far too long. In the second call there are over 50 vehicles. This means that Contargo, together with Rhenus Trucking, will approach about 100 heavy vehicles and they will continue along this path, while of course building up the infrastructure for this in parallel, because they have to be charged. Rhenus Home Delivery is doing a lot in the distribution sector. They already tested the light vehicles with us at the time. We also talked about that at the time. I had another call with Automotive on Monday. That means my colleagues are still calling me. It’s about a shuttle business where they are also considering electrification. What gives me great pleasure is that something is happening everywhere. It’s the same at REMONDIS. There are hydrogen vehicles. In Freiburg, we have a joint venture with the City of Freiburg. I will be in Frankfurt the day after tomorrow so unfortunately I will not be able to take part in the Rhenus partner event at the trade fair. I would have liked to come, but I have to go to Frankfurt. There is a big handover of electric trucks to a company that we have together with the city. And so on. So there’s a lot going on in both companies and the number of vehicles changes almost weekly. We received this decision from the first funding call. Then we have to order the cars and they are now being delivered. I would actually have to ask Rhenus Trucking how many Volvos are there now because I know that they have delivered Volvos almost every day.

Gwen Dünner: In addition to the costs, the question of the charging infrastructure is also obvious for such a future-orientated fleet. In our last conversation, you said that there is still a lot of homework to be done. As a teacher’s child, I ask you, has it been done?

Sascha Hähnke: I’m just thinking about whether that should get a grade of E or F. I’m talking about the public charging infrastructure. No, nothing has happened there at all. There is no real charging park. I recently looked at one in Wörth. It’s not even for public trucks, but it’s still a small start. There was a project on the A2 autobahn called HoLa, short for high-performance charging in German. Certain fast charging points were to be built between Dortmund and Berlin. We dropped out because the whole project was absurd. It was really a disaster. So if we’re going to pull out ... We are involved in a lot of things, including many innovations. The Rhenus location in Bottrop was planned, but if no one can tell us what role we actually play ... Are we electric filling station operators? Are we just landlords? What actually happens to the charging infrastructure afterwards? At the time, they actually proposed to us that it would be dismantled. I say, ‘Wait a minute. With subsidies and tax money we’ll build something, we’ll do a project and then it will be dismantled.’ Nobody could say whether we would be able to take over the technology in five or six years for a certain residual value. Things like that are happening. It’s a disaster. Today, if you do this so-called depot charging, like Contargo does, you can start. You always have the home port, I always say, where the vehicle charges, and then you drive certain distances and come back. I don’t believe in on-the-road charging in long-distance transport at all. On the contrary, I think it’s a fairy tale.

Gwen Dünner: Are you saying that because it takes too long or because there are not enough?

Sascha Hähnke: Because there are not enough today. We have just talked about the fact that the first manufacturers are ready to deliver. Nothing at all is happening with public charging stations and we have to organise in the parallel world. This means that diesel will still be around for a long time. It will slowly outgrow this and alternative drives will come along. Then I say to anyone who tells this fairy tale that, after four hours, when a driver takes a break, a free, faster charging station is available ... Anyone who tells this fairy tale should simply go to a service station in the evening and see what’s going on there. There are different figures, but there is already a shortage of 30,000 to 40,000 truck parking spaces for diesel vehicles. So I have to ask myself, where are we going to build an additional charging station? We are not going to tear down a diesel filling station to do this; we need the diesel filling station as well. This means that a parallel world must be organised for hydrogen filling stations and charging infrastructure. At the moment it seems that the private sector is supposed to take care of the whole thing, and I have a hard time with that. I have to tell you that quite honestly.

Andrea Goretzki: Yes, this is not a simple topic. Today we are talking not only about e-mobility, for which the charging stations are needed. But we wanted to take a look at alternative drives in general. This also includes hydrogen and the overhead line mentioned before. What has happened in these areas? Have the projects initiated two years ago made any progress?

Sascha Hähnke: That is two-layered. We have already expressed our opinion on the overhead line several times. We don’t see those 4,000 kilometres that are being bandied about in the press. Instead, we see this as a charging option. We would like to see if we can charge a car like this while on the go. It took us three years to replace a diesel hybrid truck that can do ten kilometres with one that can do 50 kilometres. Honestly, there are still five vehicles on the road. We are now looking for more project partners. There should be a few more. But on the A5 autobahn, where we are driving near Darmstadt, there are still five or six cars with a diesel hybrid that can now drive 50 kilometres on electric power. So that’s better than ten, it’s true. But after three years we should actually already be driving that stretch with a battery-electric truck. So you can see what kind of time sequences we are talking about. I always say in my federal state, where I come from ... I don’t know if you know. If the three of us want to build a wind turbine today, do you know when it will be rotating? In seven years. In seven years it will be rotating. So we’re always talking about years in these processes. So there’s a bit of something happening. But it is unsatisfactory. The route is also being extended a bit on the A5. It’s continuing towards Frankfurt, but it’s all taking years. It’s terribly slow. Hydrogen is another story. It was first introduced in refuse collection vehicles by a company called Faun, i.e. not Mercedes. I just told you that we converted them at REMONDIS. Now things are slowly starting to happen in the forwarding world. At that time, Hyundai was the first manufacturer to have a distribution vehicle driving around in Switzerland. Now there are two or three projects from German manufacturers in which we as Rhenus are allowed to be involved. One is being done by Daimler Truck and this project is called GenH2. It will also be a pilot series, a very small series. There are a few tractor units that we are allowed to test, and MAN is doing the same. It’s called Bayernflotte. We are also project partners in this. We were in Nuremberg, where Mr Söder brought by a cheque, as did Mr Aiwanger. There, too, there is state support so that something can finally happen. The German manufacturers are now getting started and we are allowed to be project partners twice.

Gwen Dünner: But this also sounds promising. Of course, such projects take a long time, but you have to start somewhere.

Andrea Goretzki: Yes. On the other hand, isn’t there perhaps a bit of pressure on it now, because there is also a need?

Sascha Hähnke: Well, why have Hyundais already been on the road in Switzerland for one and a half or two years, and yet the three of us are only now talking about a project that will start sometime next year, i.e. a test fleet or a field trial? Certain manufacturers have simply been quicker or backed the right horse or vice versa. Maybe some manufacturers have underestimated this development a bit or have continued to bet on the diesel horse for too long. I can’t say. It annoys me too. These are German manufacturers. We are a German company by origin and I find it quite sad that we are currently lagging behind with German trucks. We have to pay extreme attention and simply get up to speed, also with battery-electric trucks. It’s no different there.

Andrea Goretzki: But we at Rhenus, or REMONDIS, are staying on the ball and continue to grate on nerves.

Sascha Hähnke: Yes, we try to drive things forward. I’m the customer expert advisory board, that’s what it’s actually called. But I always say customer advisory board, at MAN and Daimler. Sometimes I think they only put up with me because we have a large fleet and because they can’t kick us out as customers. Of course we keep on pushing, nagging and pointing out things, and I think we have to do that. At this event yesterday and last week, when I was at Schäffler, it was strangely always the same companies. So the number of colleagues has not grown much. That also worries me, so not only the speed at which these vehicles are developed and when they actually come onto the market, but also the players who have the courage. That’s two hands full and that was the same two hands full two or three years ago. I would also like to see more colleagues joining in and not waiting. I think it is not only negligent to stick to diesel for a long time because we have to prepare our companies, both Rhenus and REMONDIS, for this transformation of the fleet. I also think it would be fatal for our customers. They want solutions, they expect solutions from us and they have always received them, both from Rhenus and REMONDIS. We must also have made these mistakes and know how it works and how it doesn’t work. Otherwise, we are no longer a serious partner for our customers. That’s why I always ask some of my colleagues: ‘Man, what are you waiting for!’. I tell them the same thing. ‘Why don’t you do something? Buy two or three cars. Just get started.’ It doesn’t have to be these 50, 80, 100, like we’re doing now. Admittedly, we also started a little earlier, three years ago. But if they were to start with three, four, five, six ... Every car helps, every charging station helps, and if there is a demand for hydrogen vehicles, filling stations will be built. I always say: ‘We don’t have a chicken and an egg, but unfortunately we still have chickens and eggs.’

Gwen Dünner: Basically, you could say that we are doers. But we already heard at the beginning that you are now at our sister company REMONDIS. Why does this topic have a different status there? We have already touched on this a little bit, but can we perhaps look into it in a little more depth?

Sascha Hähnke: The significance is different. No, it is not different at all. It came earlier. There is a Clean Vehicle Directive that says if you want to collect from a public sector client, you have to have converted ten percent of the fleet to alternative drives. There are municipal and commercial customers at REMONDIS and I know of two cases where the industry has suddenly written this in and said, ‘I want this too. I don’t have to do it yet, but I will write it into the contract and expect my logistics service provider to comply with the Clean Vehicle Directive when I invite tenders.’ These are small beginnings. Once again, there are already municipal customers, but I am quite sure that this will come about in the same way with industrial customers. It’s just that it’s coming earlier, but it’s catching up with us at Rhenus, and that’s why, thank God, we started dealing with these issues very, very early on.

Gwen Dünner: But at least it’s good to see that this pressure, which was basically predicted years ago, is really coming on its own, not just because there are requirements. The industry is already starting, not because it has to, but because it can.

Sascha Hähnke: If you like, when a private company writes the Clean Vehicle Directive into a tender, it is voluntary. So it is not altruistic, but instead also a bit selfish in terms of the CO₂ balance sheet and in terms of self-imposed climate targets. That is quite clear. But legally, it’s a voluntary matter for now. The cities are already under pressure today, and that’s why we have to look around and hurry up with these municipal collection vehicles.

Andrea Goretzki: Now we have learned a great deal about the already established alternative drives. What about new developments, e.g. in the field of synthetic fuels? What do you make of this topic? Are there any innovations coming our way?

Sascha Hähnke: Yes, absolutely. As Rhenus, we have been using HVO, a synthetic diesel, in the Netherlands for many years. It is, if you like, even a synthetic fuel. It is not comparable with what is currently being discussed in the press, but with this synthetic diesel it is the case that it saves between 70 and 85 per cent in CO₂, although there are different figures. I think it’s a very good tool for the existing fleet. We only ever talk about alternative drive systems, but the existing fleet, which was purchased two years ago, or the diesel vehicles that will be purchased this year, which will be in use for years to come, must also be CO₂-reduced. For example, HVO, synthetic diesel, is a fantastic story because I don’t have to convert anything. I don’t have to implement any technical matters. The same applies to synthetic fuels, which are now also being discussed in the passenger car sector. They are being calculated to death. I always wonder who is so smart and already knows what a litre will cost once mass production is underway. We are currently hyping hydrogen, which is brutally expensive. It has gone up again. It is more expensive today than when we spoke two years ago. It was already uneconomical then, but it is being hyped completely, hydrogen, competence, country, continent and so on. With synthetic fuels, we’re already starting calculating everything to death, without knowing what the thing will cost at the end of the day. One discussion will be whether it belongs in vehicles, aircraft or ships. We’ll have to see where it ends up. But I’m basically a fan of pursuing every avenue with an open mind and examining it closely and also actually using it.

Gwen Dünner: Awesome. That’s actually the perfect closing word, I think. So we can see you’re going to be a regular guest with us. I still have so many questions, but I think we have to ... Because last time we made the mistake of doing so much that we had to split it into two episodes. So we would very much like to invite you here again. I think this is also a topic where it is important to always follow the developments. If that would be possible, it would be great if you came by again.

Sascha Hähnke: We can meet again in two years for the fair.

Gwen Dünner: Yes, exactly. Very good.

Sascha Hähnke: Something else comes to mind that we should perhaps mention briefly. We have founded this BLC. This is a joint venture between REMONDIS and Rhenus that deals with battery logistics, i.e. logistics not only in the sense of transport logistics, but generally with handling and repairs and so on. This is a very new venture. In two years, we can see how far along our colleagues are. They are investing and building. So both companies are doing something together in this area of batteries. That’s a great story.

Andrea Goretzki: Yes, that’s a very exciting topic. We definitely have that on our list for a podcast. Then we’ll have a look and do something together again in Munich in two years.

Gwen Dünner: This is a regular date and has been firmly entered. Great. Then we really want to thank you very much again for being with us. As I said, the topic is seminal. The topic is a perennial issue and will certainly result in further developments in the next few years. So once again, many, many thanks.

Sascha Hähnke: Thank you for the invitation and have a nice fair and good luck.

Andrea Goretzki: Thank you very much to you too. With that, we would like to conclude this episode and bid you farewell with a good bye and see you next time. Many thanks also to our listeners. If you don’t want to miss an episode, subscribe to Logistics People Talk on Spotify, Google or Apple Podcasts. You can also find all our episodes and other exciting articles on our expert blog and the Rhenus website. We wish you traffic-free roads and free e-charging stations. Regards from your fellow travellers ...

Gwen Dünner: Gwen Dünner ...

Andrea Goretzki: and Andrea Goretzki.


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