Innovation & Future

Green Logistics? A done deal!

Our freight transport operations need to do less damage to the environment. That is what politicians are demanding. Pioneers like Rhenus and Contargo are already paving the way by using electric trucks.

The catch phrase is future mobility: based on the year 1990, emissions caused by traffic in Europe are supposed to be reduced by 90 percent by 2050. This means that nearly all the cars on our roads will have to operate without producing any emissions by then. At least, that is the aim of an action plan, which the European Commission presented in December 2020 as part of its much tougher climate goals. Developments towards sustainable transport operations are continuing to gain momentum, as a result. The EU had already issued a directive for emission standards for trucks in June 2019 – CO2 emissions for newly registered trucks in the EU will have to be reduced by 15 percent by 2025 in comparison with 2019 and be 30 percent lower by 2030. Is this feasible? Klemens Rethmann, CEO of Rhenus, has a very positive attitude. “We’re happy to adopt the challenges posed by Mobility 4.0 – for the benefit of our customers too.”

The first electric truck fleet in Germany

The truck provider, Rhenus Trucking, is putting its faith in electric trucks in conjunction with the terminal operator, Contargo: the two companies are therefore important pioneers as far as alternative drive systems and sustainable logistics are concerned. Rhenus Trucking purchased six fully electric 44-tonne trucks in the spring of 2019 and has been using them to transport containers at the Contargo terminals at the ports of Duisburg and Neuss since that time. That was a bold decision. No other company had ever organised this kind of electric truck fleet in Germany. And implementing the project was anything but simple. After all, there are only a few manufacturers of heavy goods vehicles powered by batteries.

„As decarbonisation by 2050 is one of our goals and trucks and ships in particular cause most CO2 emissions during transport operations, this is our starting point. Sustainability is a permanent feature in our corporate activities. We’re adopting new approaches, saving CO2 emissions immediately and are excited to see how our customers react.“
Kristin Kahl | Authorised Signatory at Contargo with responsibility for the Sustainable Solutions Division

However, comparable electric trucks cost about three times more than similar diesel trucks. Depending on their design, they have a range of between 100 and 250 kilometres – then the battery needs to be recharged. In order to have efficient rapid charging facilities, it is also important to create the necessary charging infrastructure, as any vehicle schedules have to take into account possible interim charging times too.

„It's fantastic to have found a customer, Contargo, which has just as innovative an approach to matters as we have and is promoting sustainable logistics. Our goal is not to maximise profits, but we’re pooling innovations, vehicle technology and the qualification and further training of our drivers. This will then benefit all our units.“
Sascha Hähnke | Managing Director of Rhenus Transport

Vehicles from three manufacturers in service

In order to test different models, Rhenus Trucking has purchased vehicles from three manufacturers: two trucks from the Dutch company, DAF, two from the Swiss provider, Futuricum, and two from the Swiss firm, E-Force. All of them are operating effectively. Even if conventional electricity was used to charge the batteries, the overall CO2 emissions could already be reduced by about 40 percent, thanks to the electric trucks. Contargo is making use of green electricity at all its business sites; the CO2 emissions are therefore being cut by as much as 90 percent (WtW). The results are extremely important. Heavy goods vehicles are responsible for creating about one quarter of all CO2 emissions in road traffic.

The electric fleet

Vehicles: six 44-tonne trucks

Manufacturers: DAF, E-Force, Futuricum

Operating range: between 100 and 250 kilometres

CO2 savings per annum: more than 400 tonnes

It is therefore no accident either that recognition has come from within the sector: Rhenus, Contargo and DAF received the “Green Logistic Innovation 2019” Prize from the trade magazines, VerkehrsRundschau und TRUCKER, because they are enabling low-emission transport operations.

„I'm grateful that you’re acting as a pioneer.“
Hendrik Wüst | Transport Minister in the State of North Rhine-Westphalia

Used for local transport services

One thing was obvious in the project being pursued by Rhenus Trucking and Contargo. “Electric trucks may not yet be suitable for long-distance traffic. However, they’re a sensible alternative for local services,” says Sascha Hähnke. On average, the electric trucks operate within a radius of 40 kilometres around the Contargo terminals. This means that the battery-operated trucks complete two or three trips every day and each one on average covers a distance of 240 kilometres. Kristin Kahl summarises matters as follows, “Battery-powered electric trucks fit into our logistics concept in an ideal manner within our combined traffic services.”

Are electric trucks therefore the future solution?

Even if initial success stories have been recorded, it is not yet clear what the future of electric vehicles will be for transport services, how quickly they will conquer the market, go into series production and be able to compete with current diesel trucks in terms of prices. Some experts, like Auke Hoestra, are optimistic. The Dutch transport expert assumes that electric trucks will become the new norm. “I think that we’ll have 40-tonne, battery-operated articulated trucks with a range of 800 kilometres in five years from now and they’ll be able to transport greater loads than current trucks,” said Hoestra recently to the “Klimareporter” online magazine.

However, a longer battery life and intelligent rapid charging points, which are linked to the scheduling department, could continue to increase their attractiveness. Hähnke does not, however, believe that all trucks will be electrically-powered in future. Other technologies like hydrogen or natural gas are interesting for him too at the moment. This is the reason why Rhenus Trucking is not only operating six articulated electric vehicles for Contargo, but is also involved in using an overhead cable hybrid truck in service on the “Elisa” project E-Highway A5” test route for Contargo too. Rhenus Trucking is also participating in another electric truck project with Remondis involving a Mercedes E-Actros in Cologne.

„We’re open to new technologies and we’d constantly like to make our fleet of vehicles more sustainable – regardless of whether the vehicles are operated by a battery, hydrogen, LNG or CNG.“
Michal Viefers | Board Member of the Rhenus Group

Whatever happens, transporting goods must definitely become more eco-friendly. And the vehicle fleets of logistics specialists will have to develop accordingly and be geared towards innovations that are ready for introduction in the market place.

Thinking about tomorrow, today

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More information

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For energy-efficient trucks: the German government must financially accelerate climate protection!

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Other sustainability topics in the trucking sector

Here you will find an overview of current sustainability projects within the Rhenus Group.

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