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Volvo Trucks' European BEV lineup available for test drives at its headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. (SAE/Ryan Gehm)

Volvo’s ambitious goal: 50% zero-emission trucks by 2030

The OEM’s three-pronged approach to net-zero includes combustion engines and fuel cells, but battery-electric trucks will dominate.

Volvo Trucks’ target is to be completely fossil-free by 2040. “If we stop selling products that rely on CO2 by 2040, it means that our running population [of trucks] out in the world should be net-zero by 2050,” Jessica Sandström, Senior Vice President, Product Management and Sustainability at Volvo Trucks, said during a September media event at the company’s headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. Nearer term, the truck maker is targeting 50% of its global sales – approximately 75,000 units – to be zero-emission by 2030.

Battery-electric trucks will be the OEM’s main technology path to achieve this aggressive target. “That is the product we foresee will have the largest volume over time. It is because it’s simply the most efficient solution,” Sandström said. Samsung is the main supplier for its batteries. Volvo currently favors NMC (nickel manganese cobalt) lithium-ion batteries, but it continuously is exploring other chemistries.

In 2024, Volvo Trucks will begin to build its first battery plant, which will be in Sweden, where green energy currently is more plentiful. Battery production is an energy-intense process, Sandström noted: “If we are going to have a net-zero truck, it also means that all components going into the truck should be net-zero.” In 2025, battery-module assembly will begin in Ghent, Belgium, where three different electric models also are built – the Volvo FH, FM and FMX Electric.

The OEM’s three-pronged strategy to achieve a net-zero endgame also includes combustion engines and fuel cells. “Many segments will continue to utilize combustion engines in the future,” she said. “We foresee a future where they are run on fossil-free fuels. It could be HVO [hydrotreated vegetable oil], bio-LNG [liquefied natural gas] or hydrogen.”

Fuel cell electric is earlier in the development stage, Sandström said, and will come “a bit later.” Volvo Trucks has started to test fuel-cell trucks in northern Sweden, and recently performed hot-climate testing as well. “Even a fuel-cell truck is to a large extent a battery-electric truck,” she reminded. "Hydrogen fuel will be developed, not for the transport industry as the primary usage, but rather as excess from other industries we can get the supply of hydrogen."

Different conditions in different parts of the world will dictate which technologies will be employed and when. Fuel availability is one variable. Infrastructure development possibilities and the political decisions being made also are key factors, she said: “We are not the only ones who can decide which technologies will work where.” Sandström answered a range of questions at the Gothenburg media event.

What needs to happen to accelerate the adoption of zero-emission trucks?
Public charging network will be key to scale to many more segments. We need thousands of charging points for heavy-duty trucks all around the globe. We believe that it’s [moving] too slow, and we will encourage both the private sector and the politicians to move in this direction. We also see that efficient incentive schemes can play an important role. Looking at the markets that are ahead [in this regard], like the U.S., in Norway, Sweden, Germany, it really helps to accelerate the market.

But to have long-term ways of handling this, we believe that carbon pricing could be a good way to do it. If you have carbon pricing, you are technology-neutral; it’s very easy for our customers to understand how the long-term financial implications will be for them, and then they can calculate total cost of ownership in a much more predictable way. That will be the game-changer, because then we will get investment from all different sectors – if we agree that it’s actually costly to emit CO2.

To gain the full effect of electric, you also need green energy. The world needs a lot more energy in the years to come – the global demand will increase by 25 to 30 percent [by] 2030. After that, we will need even more energy. Of course, it is important that this comes from solar, wind and other fossil-free sources. The good thing is that we already see now in the development that 75 to 80 percent of the global-capacity increase will come from fossil-free fuels.

How are you developing and managing your supply chain?
We are looking at how this will develop. Since we have been working with electric buses [which debuted in 2015], and even before that starting with our hybrids in 2005, at that point there were not so many suppliers who thought about us as a potential customer. So, we have been developing the supply base together. We have been finding the suppliers, we have done things in-house when we couldn’t find a supplier, and we have learned together.

By no means are we at the end of that process, and we are constantly trying to find the right suppliers for the volumes that we have in front of us. Because that is also what happens – it’s one type of supplier when you have low volumes; when we have the 75,000 [zero-emission trucks per year], that will of course be a completely different industrialized system.

Do you foresee the infrastructure side rising to meet this challenge?
Looking at this [FH Electric] truck, it can take 250 kilowatt [for full charge in 2.5 hours] right now. It will continue to evolve over time. It’s not like we need nuclear power to be able to do it. We will move to 350 [kW] and then there is this megawatt charging standard that is under development. We will probably be around 700-800 kW that will go into the truck. I think it will be possible.

That it also why we are so open. How we behaved when we were in diesel, everything was secret before we opened the order books. Now we stand here and talk about what will happen in 2030 – what type of technology we will develop. It also is to make sure that the other players who build infrastructure, they should be sure that there will be customers – there will be trucks out there that can utilize the charging stations – and it gives them time [to develop them].

Can battery technology advance enough to satisfy long haul?
It depends on what you mean by long haul. What we are learning is that the operation looks very different for different customers. For those types of operation, it will depend on how they operate, where they stay overnight and so on. We will have both technologies [fuel cells, too]. We see that battery technology will continue to evolve and we will be able to increase the driving range, but we also see that the fuel cell will be very good in some of those applications.

Comment on the cellcentric JV with Daimler Truck to develop and produce fuel cells.
They are one of our biggest competitors, but this also shows that with the transformation we have in front of us, we need to take unconventional measures. We will have the same fuel-cell stack, but it does not mean at all that we will have the same truck. Because the performance of the truck is very much dependent on how you integrate the fuel cell into the system. How you optimize when to use what type of energy. How is it in combination with cooling and batteries and so on. So, you can be sure that we will still be fierce competitors out in the market, although we will have one of the components that is the same.

Where does development stand for Volvo’s electric axle?
We are testing the first trucks with the electric axle. It will be in our next generation of electric trucks. We believe that the main benefits are that we can have more batteries onboard, and it will be more efficient. Today, the transmission is in the front. What we will be able to do is get rid of everything that is going from the front to the back of the truck, the propeller shaft, so it opens the entire area in the middle of the truck between the frames.

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