Lars Martensson, director of environment and innovation at Volvo Trucks. Picture: VOLVO TRUCKS
Lars Martensson, director of environment and innovation at Volvo Trucks. Picture: VOLVO TRUCKS

Lars Martensson has a rather intriguing, if a little daunting, job at Volvo Trucks as its director of environment and innovation.

He is essentially not only responsible for innovation for the manufacturer, but also has to negotiate with Gothenburg’s government stakeholders on how to go about making the city a safer and cleaner place to live in. The latter issue remains a concern for many cities, particularly with the dense number of vehicles that emit noxious gases into the atmosphere.

Air pollution

According to Martensson, some of the things in his remit include having a holistic view of air pollution, which he says is still a cause of premature deaths due to related illness.

"About 300 premature deaths in Gothenburg due to particles are recorded in the city, while there are 14,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYS) in Sweden, while noxious gases prevent densification due to EU legislation," says Martensson.

He also says that noise pollution is a major concern with socioeconomical costs from road traffic reaching some 1,000-million Swedish krona (R1.544bn) per annum.

The Volvo compressed natural gas truck. Picture: VOLVO TRUCKS
The Volvo compressed natural gas truck. Picture: VOLVO TRUCKS

One of the company’s plans is to introduce the Volvo Concept Truck, essentially a hybrid truck for long-haul transportation with some of the most efficient aerodynamics, which reduces overall drag by 10% and fuel consumption by a sizeable 30%. The latter will be attributed partly to low resistance tyres, which have a 20% fuel saving, while the hybrid system is responsible for the other 10%.

He also mentions that alternative fuels are a great solution, particularly replacing diesel with bio fuels, which are abundantly available.

Natural gas, he says, will be key in creating both electricity and methane gas, which will be beneficial for residential use and transportation purposes. Bio mass is important too, which can produce synthetic diesel, methanol, ethanol and even biodiesel. Martensson also says that both bio LNG (liquefied natural gas) and bio CNG (compressed natural gas) can replace 20% of conventional diesel fuel, which comes from crude oil.

He says these ideas have given birth to the Volvo FH LNG and FM LNG for both long-haul and regional-haul applications and the advantages are high power output and low emissions, while offering 15% efficiency over an equivalent diesel-only truck.

"As part of our Environmental Vision Zero Emissions from Volvo Trucks, we want to take the lead towards a more sustainable future and our technologies are very much in line with this vision," he says.

While in Sweden, I managed to drive a Volvo FH LNG tanker and it was as responsive as any conventional diesel truck and had I not known beforehand what I was driving, I would be none the wiser.

Martensson says that co-operation with other manufacturers and stakeholders will be key to ensure that by 2045 there will be no climate change impact in Gothenburg.

Advantages

What he acknowledges, however, is that the advantages are the reduction of carbon emissions, local employment, sustainability and independence of oil but, convexly, vast amounts of land will be needed, possibly having an impact on nature, food and emissions.

There is also the matter of cost and the fact that public knowledge and safety about LNG and CNG is rather thin on the ground, something that also rings true in the South African context. Nonetheless, the pros of the technology will make it a worthwhile option to explore for the greater good of the planet as well as its inhabitants.

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