What is the best alternative fuel for heavy-duty trucks?

Lars Mårtensson
Technology & Innovation Electromobility Alternative fuels
Lars Mårtensson
Environment and Innovation Director at Volvo Trucks

The whole transport industry needs to transition away from diesel and fossil fuels. Yet, for many businesses, the question remains: which of the growing number of alternative fuels is the best fit for them – today, and into the future.

Across the globe, governments and companies alike are setting ambitious climate targets. Both the EU’s European Green Deal and the National Climate Task Force in the US aim for climate neutrality by 2050, while China aims to be carbon neutral by 2060. Meanwhile, over 7000 companies have set their own climate targets. For the transportation and logistics industries, this means a transition away from diesel is inevitable, and for truck owners there are multiple paths forwards towards a fossil fuel-free future.

“There is no silver bullet solution that alone will enable the whole transport industry to decarbonize,” says Lars Mårtensson, Director of Environment & Innovation, at Volvo Trucks. “Instead, we are seeing a range of alternative fuels available and being developed, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to evaluate each and see which is the best fit.”

For many companies, the answer will differ depending on several factors including geography, availability, infrastructure and their own operational demands.


What is a fuel’s true climate impact and why it's important

The need to reduce carbon emissions is the key driving force behind the growth of alternative fuels, so naturally taking into account its full climate impact is an important consideration.

It isn’t as simple as looking at a fuel’s tailpipe emissions (tank-to-wheel) – it also needs to take into account how fuel is produced and distributed (well-to-wheel). These factors will differ from market to market and can change over time.

For example, the full climate impact of a battery-electric truck is low when the electricity used derives from a renewable source such as hydropower, solar or wind. However, it is much higher if it is powered by electricity produced from coal.

Some production processes, such as for hydrogen or synthetic diesel, can be energy-intensive, and the source of that energy will affect its overall climate impact. Currently, around 99% of the world’s hydrogen is produced using natural gas (known as ‘grey hydrogen’) and can actually have a bigger climate footprint than many fossil fuels even if the technology produces zero tailpipe emissions.

The full environmental impact of the fuel also needs to be considered. Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), for example, has very low climate impact: but if it’s produced using palm oil, then it can contribute to deforestation. There are also questions about the impact large-scale production of HVO will have on agriculture and food production.

For this reason, to get the full picture it can be highly beneficial to conduct a life-cycle assessment (LCA)  of the fuel and also include the vehicle’s climate impact across its whole lifetime. This encompasses everything from the raw materials used to produce the vehicle through to its decommissioning.

You can do a calculation based on previous LCAs online with Volvo Trucks’ environmental footprint calculator

We are seeing a range of alternative fuels being developed, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to evaluate each and see which is the best fit.”

What are the latest developments and trends within alternative fuels?

The pace of change continues to accelerate. The EU’s alternative fuels infrastructure regulation (AFIR), which was introduced in 2023, stipulates that by 2030, publicly accessible fast recharging stations for trucks should be available every 60 km on Europe’s main highways.

It also targets the establishment of a hydrogen refueling network with stations every 200 km – for both passenger cars and trucks – from 2030 onwards.

When it comes to LNG, the refueling network in Europe continues to grow and last year surpassed 700 refueling stations (up from just 250 in 2020). It is estimated that there will be over 2000 stations by 2030.

Meanwhile, new Bio-LNG production plants are currently under construction in Sweden and Germany, and global HVO production continues to rapidly increase. Large-scale investments in hydrogen production continue to accelerate, with the Hydrogen Council estimating that the project pipeline now exceeds 1,400 projects globally.

“Ultimately, it’s about what fuels are available to you, what do they cost, when and where you can refill or recharge and whether that is compatible with your business or not,” says Lars Mårtensson. “The good news is that investment in alternative fuels is continuously growing so it’s important to keep track of local initiatives and plans.”

To learn more about the status of the different alternative fuels in your region, one options is to contact your local Volvo Trucks dealership, who can advise you on the options and opportunities.

You can also download our ultimate guide to alternative fuels for trucks, which includes:

  • Descriptions of eight different alternative fuels that can potentially be used in heavy-duty trucks
  • The advantages and disadvantages of each fuel
  • A checklist of considerations when deciding which alternative fuel is the best fit for your business
  • A table outlining Volvo Trucks’ offer with a simple comparison between the various alternative fuels and their availability.

Download the guide here:

Download Format PDF Size 15 MB

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