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Prime Mover Magazine


Biofuel concept could offset Australia’s critically low oil reserves: Scania

Electrification looms large on the horizon as an inevitability for medium range commercial vehicles especially in urban delivery applications, yet, the safe adaptation of it in long haul road transport is still, according to some leading engineers, Peter Hart among them, more than 30 years away.

While advancements in battery technology have come a long way in lithium-ion in recent years there remains a gap in the development of a 48-volt hybrid system for the biggest trucks on the road. Heavy vehicles maintain demanding duty cycles and current battery chemistry is not yet sufficient to handle it, meaning, at least in the interim, that an overhaul is necessary of our knowledge and understanding of the complex electrical designs at work on these vehicles before the next leap forward can safely occur.

New advances in emission reducing technology, in concert with governments of developed nations that are actively mandating to outlaw wide use of fossil fuels in heavy vehicles, has opened up new markets for companies like Scania to offer its sustainability solutions one of which is renewable fuels.

As a company invested heavily in the provision of future solutions for transport sustainability, Scania, might be uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of reducing the carbon emissions of high output commercial vehicles
as it has long offered a range of biofuel options across its V8 range including bioethanol, biodiesel and HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil).

More recently it successfully tested a high tech V8 engine that was powered solely on synthetic biodiesel from waste products in partnership with Southern Fuels at its facility in Yarwun, Queensland – the first time such a trial had been successfully achieved in Australia.

Indeed biofuels could well have a significant and ongoing role beyond the next three decades as it is anticipated that hybrid power systems, using biodiesel and renewables derived from other biosolids, will extend the working range of light and medium duty electric vehicles relying on batteries limited by capacity and charging stations as infrastructure continues to play catch up.

Even as Scania positions itself ahead of the curve and awaits lagging industry, the company notes that further investment in the biofuels industry would provide a bulwark against shortages to the national oil supply of which stocks are considered critically low in accordance with the International Energy Agency which mandates that countries hold a minimum of 90 days’ supply of liquid fuel reserves.

Australia currently relies on imports of crude oil and refined petrol with a reserve of around 22 days of diesel as last reported by the Department of Energy earlier this year.

Scania Australia Managing Director, Mikael Jansson, is aware of this, pointing to the shortages that leave the country vulnerable to instabilities in the Middle-East and the risks this could mean for national security. 

“I believe biofuels will be important for Australia and it’s not just on the emissions side,” he said.

“On the security side biofuels can help Australia going forward as we have critical levels of diesel and petroleum in Australia at the moment.”

The Federal Government is facing a challenge according to Anthony King, Scania Sustainable Solutions Manager.

“We should have about 90 days stock of fuel and at the moment it is waning around the 20-day mark,” he said. “If we’re looking at biofuels as a future solution, basically circumstances tell us that we can use biofuels right now and government can use the diesel for their strategic positioning in geopolitical situations they are faced with. But it’s important for government to provide subsidies. It’s about incentives and it’s about policy.”

King insists something should be done immediately given Australia is a developed country with a strong economy but notes to date no such policy exists in regard to Euro 6 standards, an international industry specification supporting cleaner engine technology.

If government policy in Australia has been slower than Scania would have liked, they might be encouraged by recent legislation introduced in California by Senator Nancy Skinner that would likely spell the end of diesel-fuelled commercial vehicles by 2050.

If passed, the bill which requires a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2030 and 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050, would phase out diesel trucks and buses as the state looks to expedite widespread use of zero-emission vehicles.

A percentage of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction, yet to be specified under the legislation, would be allocated each year to support the transition to clean-fuel commercial vehicles.

Besides marketing itself as one the most progressive of states in the US, California also, according to the American Lung Association, is home to seven of the ten most polluted areas in the country.

In Australia, where air quality hasn’t been exposed to the same volume of industrialisation as other parts of the world, no such initiative has been made incumbent on government. Even so, the improved technology platforms associated with Euro 6 rated engines are offering vast improvements in fuel efficiency, safety and total operating economy. This in itself is fast outdating commercial vehicles powered by Euro 4 equivalent and -below engines.

Nearly 90 per cent of the Scania vehicles sold locally, despite lack of government incentives, were equipped with Euro 6 technology. Since arriving from Sweden in 2017, Jansson has noticed a change in attitude towards sustainability and solutions in Australia but he wants to see more advances made to bridge the gap with Europe.

 

“For me to take away the older vehicles it must be an easy decision,” he said. “Something needs to be put in place like it has been previously done in many countries globally. Just look at Asia and cities like Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. Taking away the really old trucks should be an easy step.”

Jansson believes vehicles that fall below Euro 5 won’t be safe enough to operate in modern cities as the volume to maintain the technology won’t survive globally.

When the Queensland Government announced the Advance Queensland Industry Attraction Fund SynBio, an affiliate of Southern Oil, took immediate advantage moving its operation north having formerly been based in New South Wales. Now it is conducting ongoing tests on bioethanol made from the waste water produced from sugar cane production, a process not without success already in Brazil for Scania.

It was the first trial of its kind by Scania in Australia with the synthetic renewable fuel using a standard diesel engine according to King. While the results have proven promising, the key takeaway from the evaluation is the fuel specification for which the company, once it has greater details, will align its engine.

“Nothing new has been done to the engine for this trial,” said Jansson. “Our engines are already prepared to take biofuel but this blend of synthetic material is new for us. So we are monitoring that very closely including the wear and tear and the fuel consumption on that engine. This is a very interesting test and from it we can learn and specify a bit differently.”

Jansson said interest in biofuels is being generated in large part by Scania’s customers. As the general public becomes more aware of environmental challenges governments will be required to take greater notice.

“Partnerships are key,” said King. “It’s about working together with government top down and working with fuel providers and customers and then working as a team to get this over the line.”

Despite attracting interest from different stakeholders who have approached Scania for ongoing dialogue, Jansson has seen awareness occur at all levels of industry and his goal now is to speed up actions so that an agreement can be reached in order to secure government support and to scale it up. Part of that process has been creating the position of a Sustainability Solutions Manager occupied by Peter King, which aligns with the company’s core values.

“At Scania it’s about elimination of waste, efficiency and also when we talk about climate change and the environment it’s about respect around the individual,” he said. “What are we leaving behind as we journey through this pathway in life?”

Part of the ambition to drive a shift to more efficient, sustainable transport solutions is to enlighten governments so that there is a greater understanding of why sustainability is about making a difference according to King.

“That’s a key for us at Scania. We’ve had many discussions in the biofutures department looking in that case predominantly at ethanol. We are working with those solutions on the ground. Sustainability offers an awareness as to how we position ourselves in the community, how we position ourselves in the country and how we position ourselves globally,” he said. “The elimination of waste is about better solutions. We’ve had meetings with various government departments showing them and creating the awareness of what we are doing.”

At present, King is, through ongoing discussions, seeing an increase in the local governments who are coming on board.

“They get it,” he said. “What is driving it, when you look at it from a federal government point of view it’s about policy and incentives once that changes everything else will change down the line.”

“We’re pushing biofuels first where Euro 6 becomes the default.”

(Image: Mikael Jansson, Scania Managing Director).

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