"Customer’s Use Case will define the Propulsion System"
SpringerProfessional_MTZ: Is the transportation of goods and people with Diesel powered commercial vehicles (CV) on its way out or do you see a way to make the Diesel engine fit for the future via optimization and more efficient exhaust aftertreatment?
Nielsen: One thing is for sure. The Diesel engine has not come to its end of development. Absolutely not, because we have a lot of possibilities to develop it further. By the end of the day it will be a question of the use case of the customer that will decide which type of propulsion system he would like to use. We will have customers that will ask for electrical propulsion systems and others that will ask for Diesel systems. And it has to make a sense both from a sustainability point of view and a TCO point of view. That’s why we need to continue. We will develop the next state of the art best Diesel engine as well as the best state of the art electrical propulsion system. So, we will not focus on one or the other – we have to do both. We are a global company and have our products at work all over the world. So for us there is not one single propulsion system that fits all. Especially in the emerging markets the Diesel engine will play a very important role for a long time to come.
With a view to different applications and uses, different engine concepts make sense. What is for you the ideal engine solution for urban, regional or long haulage transportation? Will CV OEMs have to offer a similarly broad mix as their passenger car colleagues?
I would say we have to offer a broader mix, due to the different use cases. For example you have street sweepers, garbage trucks, delivery vans, long haul distribution trucks, buses which all have different use cases demanding different solutions. Therefore we must offer an even broader range of solutions than in passenger car business. Regarding the optimal solution for all those different use cases, I don’t have a general answer because we have to look at it from a customer’s perspective and see what the application is and where the vehicle is going to be used. I think there are a lot of innovative concepts coming especially regarding the last mile and it is fantastic to see the level of innovation.
A second great hope apart from electrification are synthetic fuels which enable a CO2-neutral use provided they have been produced in a regenerative way. How do you see the chances of e-fuels? Which problems and solutions do you see?
The big question is: how do we store energy in a vehicle? You can store Diesel and e-fuels in tanks or energy in batteries. E-fuels do have fantastic potential if you can manage to get a proper cradle-to-grave or cradle-to-tank-solution. There are some challenges in creating these synthetic fuels in an efficient way by not using too much energy. But I’m pretty sure that we will see some proper solutions for the processes. Therefore I think that synthetic fuels offer a very good opportunity for the future. If we have a breakthrough in that field with e-fuels achieving roughly the same energy density as Diesel, we will get an energy density which is roughly 25 times higher than in today’s batteries. As long as it is not recognized by the politicians that biofuels are also CO2-neutral fuels we do have a problem. They do have to understand the cradle-to-grave-situation and based on that we should create the most sustainable system. For me this point is really important because solving it would give us a lot more options at hand. Electrical engines will play a very important role but we need different solutions as well in order to satisfy the needs of all our customers.
Which role can commercial vehicles with fuel cell powertrains play – as they are just as electric and emissions free as BEVs?
For me this is part of the cradle-to-grave discussion again. Creating hydrogen from electricity is still a very inefficient process which means that the cradle-to-grave energy efficiency of a fuel-cell powertrain is still very low. The second problem regarding commercial vehicles is to get enough density in the hydrogen on board. We need specific tanks and hydrogen is still very voluminous which causes some challenges in our business especially as it can lead to lower load capacity. Depending how this technology develops it could also have a breakthrough effect but at this point in time I don’t see it as a solution for our problems. Perhaps with the next generation we will see some progress.