Alternative fuels for transport companies – the pros, the cons and the possibilities

The EU has set bold environmental targets, aiming to reduce emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030. Given the transport industry is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gases worldwide, it’s unsurprising to see transport companies looking for ways to operate sustainably. And some are turning to alternative fuels to do so.

But how suitable are these new fuel types to the practical needs of a transport business?

This article looks at some of the most popular types of alternative fuels: the pros, and cons, the challenges of wider adoption and how they might suit a truck fleet like yours.

Diesel: An unbeatable champion?

You don’t need us to tell you, diesel is by far the most popular fuel for truck fleets and it’s not hard to see why. It is powerful, widely available, relatively affordable and offers great driving range. But that does not make it perfect.

The cost of diesel is volatile, as it’s influenced by changes in the price of crude oil. 75% of transport CEOs cite swings in the price of oil as one of their main operational concerns and so many are looking for alternatives.

So, what are the other options? There are quite a number of potential alternative fuels for transport. Let’s look in more detail at three of the most compelling ones.


Liquified natural gas (LNG)

Of all the natural gas based alternative fuels for transport, LNG is the most suitable. Natural gas stored in a liquid form, it offers a driving range of around 1,000 km and comes with 10%-20% less emissions than diesel.

And there are those that expect it to reach widespread adoption in the near future. NVGA Europe predicts that, by 2030, LNG trucks will have a share of around 25% in the market.

That will require significant infrastructural change to realize, however. While the number of LNG refueling stations is growing in Europe, it is still not anywhere near enough to support the continent’s transport network.

Also, though gas might be cheaper than oil, the production of LNG is expensive. For transport operators investment is also needed, as trucks will require additional tanks in order to run on LNG.

There have, however, been some successful use cases. In 2015, Parisian shopping chain Castorama announced it would be re-designing its logistics to replace the diesel lorries it used to deliver stock to its stores with gas lorries.

Not only was the plan successful, the company managed to reduce the number of lorries it needed from seven to six in the process.


Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO)

While there are a number of biofuels on the market, many of which are not suitable to the practical demands of long haulage, HVO has a definite case for being adopted by the industry. Produced by mixing hydrogen and vegetable oils (instead of menthol and vegetable oils like biodiesel), it is a very clean fuel.

It’s also got a longer lifetime in the tank than biodiesel, as all the oxygen is removed from the oils during the production process massively lowering the risk of oxidation.

Performance-wise it is almost a match for diesel and it can be used in a regular diesel engine in any temperature.

Yet HVO also comes with its drawbacks. While it is popular in some countries (around 7 million tonnes were produced in Scandinavia in 2020, for example), it’s not widely available worldwide. This contributes to its cost. Right now, most transport companies in most parts of the world will have to pay a notably higher price for HVO than diesel.


Hydrogen fuel cells

A modern battery electric vehicle (BEV) will typically offer range of around 300km, making it unsuitable for long haulage. But that does not mean electric options are not viable alternative fuels for transport.

Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity by combining hydrogen with oxygen. When used as fuel, it burns completely cleanly, leaving no emissions but water. Crucially, it offers a much better driving range than a BEV.  In fact, the Hydrogen Council predicts that by 2050, 15 million to 20 million trucks will be running on hydrogen.

Yet hydrogen could be an expensive way to fuel a fleet – three to four times the price of diesel by some estimations. Also, given 95% of the world’s hydrogen is produced using fossil sources, it also comes with sustainability issues.

Then there is the lack of infrastructure. To use hydrogen fuel, hydrogen fuel stations are required and currently the number of these stations throughout Europe is relatively low. However more hydrogen locations are being developed in Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.

So, while hydrogen fuel cells represent a very attractive package as alternative fuels for transport, significant developments will need to be made before it is affordable and practical enough for widespread adoption.

Are you concerned about issues related to fuel for your transport company? Want to talk to one of our experts in fuel efficiency? Then we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch here.

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