Commercial trucking’s future is in the details

September 8, 2020 by  
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Commercial trucking’s future is in the details Rick Mihelic Tue, 09/08/2020 – 01:45 One downside of a career as an engineer is that you are trained to notice detail. Robert Downey Jr., playing Sherlock Holmes in the 2011 movie “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows,” is asked what he sees. His answer: “Everything. That is my curse.” It can make you the invaluable go-to person for information and analyses, and it also can make you the brunt of sarcasm and stereotyping. You are what you are. I had my son snap this photo as we were driving. I thought this one image captured a great deal of salient points I’ve learned after several years of researching medium- and heavy-duty alternatives such as battery electric, fuel cell electric and a variety of hybrid systems for the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). Let’s start with the obvious first: Feeding North America requires trucks and truck drivers. Trucks require energy. This energy has to be replenished regularly. COVID-19’s impact on the North American supply chain, hopefully, has heightened everyone’s appreciation that while food does grow on trees, a truck and driver probably has to get it to you. Over 70 percent of all freight moved in the United States is on trucks. If the trucks don’t move, you do not get food, toilet paper or masks. Those trucks are driven by people. They are taking risks now, and always have, to get you products you need to survive. The trucks need energy, whether diesel, gasoline, natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, propane, etc. That has to come from somewhere on a reliable and consistent basis or you do not get fed. Diving deeper into the photo: Fleets are commercial businesses that exist to deliver product to you. “Free delivery.” It’s a great advertising tag line, but there are no free rides; someone always pays somewhere. Buried in the cost of products are the costs of getting the product from its point of origin to you, the consumer. You may never see it, but fundamentally at some level you understand that the primary purpose of businesses is to be profitable. Embedded in the price you pay for goods are things such as vehicle maintenance, insurance, driver labor, warehouse labor, packaging labor, fuel energy, transport tolls, packaging disposal and, of course, profit margin. Profit is the whole reason a business exists in the first place. Companies that do not make a profit eventually collapse. Little of this detail is visible to you as a consumer. You generally have just a price and applicable taxes on your receipt. Occasionally “shipping and handling” are itemized, but this is probably only the last leg of the delivery. The “supply chain” is all of that infrastructure that gets the product to your door. Many corporations exist to make money from finding and delivering energy to transportation. There is a phenomenal amount of money invested, profits made and infrastructure tied to transportation related energy. They know change is coming. Energy providers such as Shell want to be around for a long time, so they are diversifying into a number of possible energy streams. Vehicle and component manufacturers are similarly diversifying with examples such as Cummins trying to cover most of the alternative technologies in their product portfolio. Utilities such as Duke Energy are getting engaged as well, forecasting major growth in demand for electricity, whether that’s for charging battery electric vehicles or for producing fuels such as hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles. Fleet operators such as UPS are experimenting with many alternatives trying to get experience to aid in planning investments. Venture capitalists also are everywhere seeking the next great investment. NACFE presented in its ” Viable Class 7/8 Alternative Vehicles Guidance Report ” the “messy middle” future, where a wide range of powertrains and energy forms are competing for market share. The future is not known yet. This diversity of choices is powering investment in all the alternatives as companies try to position themselves for this future. Prudent regulators are attempting to be technology-neutral while incentivizing significant improvement in market adoption, performance, affordability, emissions and durability. Fifteen states have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop action plans to ensure 100 percent of all new medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales are zero-emission by 2050 with an interim target of 30 percent zero-emission sales by 2030. California already has enacted regulations requiring all trucks and vans sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2045. The near future may be the “messy middle,” but the longer view is heading toward zero-emission technologies. The gas station/truck stop paradigm is not necessarily the future. It’s an easy trap to fall into that we predict the future based on past experience. Psychologists label this sometimes as a familiarity bias. The gas station/truck stop paradigm we have evolved into may not reflect the future of transportation. Think of past examples. When the Eisenhower administration rolled out the national highway system in the 1950s, fuel stations and towns on venerable Route 66 suddenly found that they had been bypassed by the new multi-lane freeways. Higher speeds enabled by the freeways enabled fuel stations to be farther apart and co-located at key exits. The transition from coal steam trains to diesel electric ones in the 1940s and 1950s saw many fundamental shifts in infrastructure, with trains no longer needing water and coal refill stops. The development of jet commercial aviation in the 1960s largely eliminated the passenger rail system in the U.S. The advent of portable cellular phones has eliminated the ubiquitous phone booth system and all its infrastructure. Today, transportation is seeing daily innovations in alternative energy powertrains in parallel with major innovations in automation. The future is not known, but I bet the traditional gas station/truck stop will not look or operate like the ones of today. Even simplistically, a fully autonomous truck will not need to stop for food, snacks or a bathroom break. It won’t need to be located near convenient shopping or restaurants. As the alternative powertrains mature and become more capable, ranges will improve dramatically. When EVs come into existence that are capable of traveling 500 to 600 miles, energy stations planned around vehicles with a 100- to 200-mile range may be as endangered in the future as were the Route 66 gas stations in the past. Concepts in Europe to electrify highways with either in-pavement wireless or overhead catenary charging might eliminate fuel stations entirely. Some regions with growing numbers of EV cars have found that they primarily charge at home, and they rarely see a commercial charging station. Other regions see heavy use of commercial charging stations, but they may be tied to locations such as shopping centers or grocery store parking lots. In predicting the future, I like to refer to the cautionary note required on nearly all investment advertising, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Predictions are easy. Really knowing the future is easier once you get there. Topics Transportation & Mobility Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Connor Mihelic Close Authorship

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Commercial trucking’s future is in the details

Carbon ‘rainbow’: Unilever pledges $1.2B to scrub fossil fuels from cleaning products

September 8, 2020 by  
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Carbon ‘rainbow’: Unilever pledges $1.2B to scrub fossil fuels from cleaning products Cecilia Keating Tue, 09/08/2020 – 00:15 Unilever last week revealed plans to funnel close to $1.2 billion over the next 10 years into initiatives that will allow it to replace chemicals in its cleaning products made from fossil fuel feedstocks with greener alternatives — an investment it described as critical to meeting its aim of achieving net-zero emissions from its products by 2039. The new program, Clean Future, is largely focused on identifying and commercializing alternative sources of carbon for surfactants, the petrochemical molecules found in cleaning products that help remove grease from fabrics and surfaces. More than 46 percent of Unilever’s cleaning and laundry products’ carbon footprint is incurred by chemicals made from fossil fuel-produced carbon, most of which are used in surfactants.  However, the firm now intends to explore, invest and ramp up carbon capture and use technologies that will eliminate the need for fresh carbon feedstocks and instead allow it to tap recycled carbon already on or above ground, for example, through captured carbon dioxide or carbon captured from waste materials. Peter Styring, professor of chemical engineering and chemistry at the University of Sheffield, who has partnered with Unilever on the initiative, explained to BusinessGreen that Unilever’s investment could help catalyze a transition away from fossil fuel-derived petrochemicals, a lesser understood but necessary element of the move towards a net-zero emissions economy. “The move from fossil fuel is mainly associated with an energy transition. but similarly we need to look at a transition away from fossil fuel-derived petrochemicals,” he said. “The work we are doing is to try and replace existing chemicals within the supply chain, with not necessarily new chemicals but chemicals derived from a different supply.” Through a strategic partnership with Unilever, Styring’s team at the University of Sheffield is working to identity and develop the technologies that will allow the firm to divorce itself from chemicals made from fossil fuel feedstocks, a transition the multinational anticipates will reduce the carbon footprint of its laundry and cleaning products by as much as 20 percent. In an attempt to help consumers, competitors and partners understand its plans and the production processes behind the technologies it plans to explore, Unilever has devised a “carbon rainbow” model that outlines the alternatives to fossil fuel-produced carbon. On the carbon rainbow, carbon produced through captured carbon dioxide is dubbed “purple carbon”; plants and biological-sourced carbon is labeled “green carbon”; marine-sourced carbon is branded “blue carbon”; and waste material-sourced carbon is denoted as “grey carbon.” Conventional fossil fuel-derived carbon is simply known as “black carbon.” Unilever’s “carbon rainbow” classification system. Styring, a carbon capture and use expert, suggested that eliminating petrochemicals across industry will require active pursuit of all “shades” of the rainbow. “There is no silver bullet; nothing is going to cure the climate issue on its own,” he said. “There has to be a cooperative effect between different technologies. I would love to say purple carbon will be the No. 1 technology, but I can’t because at this stage I don’t know. It really will be a balance and the other shades on the rainbow have to be taken into account.” Unilever’s Clean Future program specifically will focus on funding biotechnology research, CO2 use and low-carbon chemistry, as well as biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations. It already supports a number of initiatives that aim to slash the environmental impact of the firm’s cleaning and laundry products. For example, in Slovakia, the company is working with biotechnology company Evonik Industries to develop the production of rhamnolipids, a renewable and biodegradable surfactant used in its Sunlight dishwashing liquid in Chile and Vietnam. And in Southern India, Unilever is sourcing soda ash — an ingredient in laundry powders — from CO2 capture technology. The firm expects to scale up the use of both technologies over the years to come. Meanwhile, liquid detergent made by Persil — one of Unilever’s largest and most popular brands in the United Kingdom — has been reformulated to rely on plant-based stain removers, with the new line expected to reach British supermarkets later this month. However, beyond the impact on Unilever’s product lines, Styring is hopeful Unilever’s commitment to pour $1.2 billion over 10 years into purging fossil fuel-derived chemicals from its laundry and cleaning products will have a major impact on improving public understanding of the role of environmentally damaging petrochemical feedstocks. “The carbon dioxide utilization industry is developing, and over the last 10 years there have been a lot of development, but it tends to be in niche industries that the public don’t really see — the production of ethanol and methanol and various chemicals,” he explained. “This is a chemical — or a series of chemicals — that goes into households around the world. This will have a big impact.” Unilever has committed to spend a part of its $1.2 billion pot to support the development of “brand communications” that explain the various new technologies to customers. Perhaps even more crucially, Styring reckons the new investment has the potential to accelerate the commercialization of renewable and recycled carbon feedstock technologies that so far largely have been confined to research departments around the world. “What will happen with these strategic partnerships is that you can identify which tech are going to be world-leading, and you can put investment into these in a way that a research council can’t,” he predicted. “Because ultimately you are looking for a commercial success, a product that will give you a profit and at the same time reduce environmental impact. So I think the investment Unilever is making here will accelerate these technologies and allow them to move from small scale, bench scale and small laboratory scale and target a much better commercial operation.” His team, for example, will be working with Unilever to investigate how different technologies can be clustered together to form a local ecosystem that can produce alternatives to black carbon at scale. The move from fossil fuel is mainly associated with an energy transition. but similarly we need to look at a transition away from fossil fuel-derived petrochemicals. “At the moment, the emphasis will be location, location, location,” Styring said. “Have you got the energy to do the chemistry — energy in terms of renewables — do you have the carbon dioxide readily available, do you have hydrogen and water readily available, do you have the inorganics?” Carbon use can be developed at major existing sources of carbon dioxide such as power stations and heavy industrial plans, and could be ramped up within a “couple years,” Styring suggested. In contrast, more ambitious projects focused on direct air capture (DAC) could prove effective but will require much more time and money to reach commercial viability. That said, Styring is still enthusiastic about the long-term prospects for DAC as it is ramped up, predicting its impact could prove to be “phenomenal.” DAC technology also has one big potential advantage over conventional carbon capture systems: It is not tied to a particular location and as such would give operators the ability to tap carbon from the air for their products anywhere in the world, eliminating the need for complex and costly transportation infrastructure and supply chains to ferry the captured carbon to production sites. Styring is hopeful that Unilever’s commitment will encourage the government to throw its weight behind carbon capture and use, a field where he believes the U.K. could emerge as a world leader. “When you go to [carbon capture use] conferences, the U.K. is always the highest represented nation outside of the organizing nation,” he observed. “But the funding doesn’t reflect this, in terms of government funding. Germany is by far and away the biggest funder of this type of research. We have the opportunity to use the best British science and engineering, and psychology and supply chain management. … We have the opportunity to make Britain a leading force, but it needs that investment.” Styring said he has been pressing the government to divert a portion of the subsidies it funnels into oil and gas into carbon capture and use technology designed to produce petrochemicals and produce fuels. The government would argue that it has been listening and plans are progressing — albeit slower than campaigners would like — for new net-zero clusters that could deploy a range of carbon capture use and storage clusters at industrial sites across the U.K. The wide-ranging implications that would flow from such hubs could prove to be hugely significant, providing the fossil fuel industry with both a means to decarbonize and new markets for its capture carbon. At the same time, advances in green and blue carbon could slash demand for fossil fuels at a time when oil majors are betting on the petrochemicals market to pick up some of the slack as the transition to electric vehicles gathers pace. Unilever’s $1.2 billion investment could yet have a huge impact far beyond the consumer goods market. Pull Quote The move from fossil fuel is mainly associated with an energy transition. but similarly we need to look at a transition away from fossil fuel-derived petrochemicals. Topics Corporate Strategy Innovation Bio Economy BusinessGreen Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off The materials innovation laboratory at the University of Liverpool. Courtesy of Unilever Close Authorship

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Carbon ‘rainbow’: Unilever pledges $1.2B to scrub fossil fuels from cleaning products

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