Alternative fuels in development at Renault Trucks

Despite building the cleanest trucks in history, manufacturers are still exploring alternative fuels. Transport News Brief has been to Renault Trucks’ test facility in Lyon to find out what new technologies they are working on.


alternative fuels
Electric vehicles have moved a long way from the ‘milk-float’ jibes of bygone years, and are now part of the zero-emissions solution many operators are looking for. Renault is active on a number of alternative fuels, including some unusual approaches.

Pure electric commercials are no longer restricted to less than 7.5 tonnes. With fastest-moving technology surrounding battery development, especially Lithium-ion, Renault Trucks has shifted its benchmark to 16 tonnes, and has a Range D rigid all-electric chassis working in central Paris with cosmetics manufacturer Guerlain. It’s on the fleet of Speed Distribution Logistique (SDL), on a two-year trial with a creative charging regime.

Renault Trucks’ project manager Christophe Vacquier said, “To operate over the 200km route – a first for any electrically-driven vehicle – it will recharge its battery several times during each 24-hour operating cycle. Its route has been planned so it can carry out two partial recharges during the day, and a total recharge between 7pm and 2am.”

There are hybrids in Renault’s plans too, but probably the most unusual pairs an electric light truck with a hydrogen fuel cell. These unlikely twins are also on an experimental trial, this time with La Poste. In a reversal of conventional construction, the power is primarily provided by the smaller unit, and augmented by the larger one as required. Based on Renault’s 4.5-tonne Maxity Electric, which has a 100km range from its standard 400 V/47 kW electric motor with 270Nm, the capability has been extended by the addition of a 20kW PEM (proton exchange membrane) hydrogen fuel cell.

Developed in a partnership between Renault Trucks and Symbio FCell, it’s due to run for a year from February 2015. The added power source effectively doubles the range to 200km, but it’s the fuel cell that gets the vehicle under way each time, as Christophe Vacquier, Renault Trucks’ Project Manager explains. “When the vehicle is running, the electric motor is fed by two complementary energy sources. The fuel cell is capable of delivering a maximum power of 20kW and, once that threshold has been reached, the batteries kick in to supply whatever power is still required.”

La Poste is no stranger to electric vehicles, as it operates one of the largest fleets of electric Renault Kangoo models in Europe, as well as electric bikes. Karine Forien, director of energy efficiency strategy with Renault Trucks, said, “This vehicle generates no noise impact and only releases water vapour. 200km of autonomy make it the ideal choice for a daily schedule of urban and suburban routes.”

Contrary to some opinion, truck makers are not resting on their haunches, having delivered the enormity of Euro-6. The refinement of the conventional tractor and trailer combination continues.

The search for further economies has moved to broader landscapes than diesel engines and drivetrains, and with CO2 reductions the next target, no stone is left unturned.

Bernard Modat, Vice President for Renault Trucks said, “We are working on a range of solutions with renewables as a keystone. Customers are moving from intentions to materialisation.”

Examples of the refinements that are being developed for the Range T tractor, displayed on the Optifuel Lab 2 test vehicle, are better aerodynamics with air management devices that automatically move in sympathy with the vehicle, including the most developed boat-tail for a trailer we’ve yet seen.

Waste heat recovery (Rankine cycle) is used to generate electricity to power auxiliaries and peripherals, reducing the drain from the crank, aided by photovoltaic cells on the trailer roof. Even oil capacities in axles are proposed to be variable, according to demand and duty, and the net gain – compared to a standard Euro-6 range T tractor – is a healthy 22% on fuel and CO2.