H.P. Therkelsen is one of the leading Danish logistics companies for food transport and a founding member of the European Food Network. Peter Therkelsen has been CEO of the group of companies since 2012 and is consistently pushing ahead with the sustainability course already initiated by his father. But in this interview he reveals which hurdles he still has to jump on the way to CO2-neutral logistics.
Mr. Therkelsen, you were named a "Green Transport Company" by the Danish Transport Authority in 2010/11. This special award is impressive proof that H.P. Therkelsen has a long history of dealing with sustainable issues...
Peter Therkelsen: "...that's right. Because 30 years ago we were already thinking intensively about how we could reduce the fuel consumption of our trucks and relieve the burden on the environment. Long before my time, we started a training program for our drivers under the leadership of my father. The aim was to teach them that by driving with foresight they can significantly reduce fuel consumption, significantly reduce the risk of material damage and that relaxed driving is good for their health. Thanks to this measure, we were awarded the title of Green Transport Company by the Transport Authority."
For exemplary action. Because with over 20 million kilometers travelled by their trucks in total every year, these training measures are more than ever of the utmost importance when it comes to immediately reducing C02. But there is still a long way to go before we reach zero emissions. What can you do as a logistics provider to be able to follow this course set by politicians in the future?
Peter Therkelsen: "This is not an easy question to answer. We are currently facing a paradigm shift in logistics, away from diesel and towards sustainable drives. But I still don't see any viable technology for 2030/35 that is ready for series production and acceptable in terms of cost, and that can achieve an appropriate range for our long-distance transport across Europe. It is also not yet clear when the Europe-wide infrastructure will be completed. Without sufficient 800-volt charging stations and hydrogen refuelling facilities, we will not be able to carry out our long-distance transport services with C02-neutral trucks in a practical manner. At the moment we are not given any real planning security for the corresponding purchases by the politicians in Denmark or the European Union.
They don't really exist for running LNG trucks either. Nevertheless, you have not shied away from investing in significantly more expensive liquefied natural gas vehicles in order to reduce the CO2 emissions of your fleet even further. Why?
Peter Therkelsen: "There are two tangible reasons for this. Firstly, we accept the significantly higher costs for acquisition and operation in order to fulfil the claim of making logistics at HP Therkelsen more sustainable. Because we can save CO2 and carry out transports in a more environmentally conscious way. Secondly, my father realized early on that the guarantee for the success of our family business lies in effectively managing change, and at the moment it's hard to imagine anything more than the change to zero-emission logistics. So we're tackling it, even if the framework conditions here are also still unclear and we don't yet know today whether, for example, the toll exemption for natural gas vehicles will remain after 2023."
How much more expensive is a truck powered by liquefied natural gas compared to diesel?
Peter Therkelsen: "When we bought the vehicles, LNG trucks were about 50 percent more expensive than diesel trucks and now the price of gas is also rising exorbitantly. We actually wanted to buy 30 gas-powered vehicles, but due to the planning uncertainty I have to consider myself lucky that it only turned out to be 10. Because for a medium-sized family business, that's already a big financial challenge to tackle."
In your opinion, which technology with which energy source will become the best possible alternative to diesel for long distances?
Peter Therkelsen: "Biogas is a good alternative for me. Because in Denmark we produce a lot of biomass, but the politicians would rather use the biogas for private houses than for the vehicles of the transport industry. Another reason for me to favor hydrogen. Our network partner in Switzerland, Peter Galliker, is already using the first CO2-neutral hydrogen trucks and is having good experiences with them, also on long-distance journeys. A test under real operating conditions, which we will certainly also start."
Read more about H.P. Therkelsen's LNG trucks here ›
Denmark is one of the frontrunners in the green transition to sustainability with one of the most ambitious climate strategies in the world. Among other things, the sale of new diesel and petrol cars will no longer be permitted in their country by 2030, and this without a subsidy for the purchase of e-cars in the private sector. Will the logistics sector, which is so important for Denmark as a food exporting country, be supported with subsidy programs?
Peter Therkelsen: "The Danish government is 100 percent in favor of the green transition. But the logistics industry, for example, gets neither subsidies for gas or battery trucks nor tax reductions for more CO2-friendly energy sources. Denmark wants to be the green country with its wind turbines, biogas plants and hydroelectric power stations, but we have to bear the costs of the change to sustainable logistics alone - a real distortion of competition compared to other European nations that do support their logistics companies. Unfortunately, some Danish logistics companies in particular that are internationally active have already moved their headquarters to other countries for this reason as well."
However, there are definitely big obstacles in their way....
Peter Therkelsen: "... which we clear away where we can. Take, for example, our long-standing membership of the European Food Network. The primary objective of Europe's largest network for food logistics is to deliver groupage shipments efficiently throughout Europe. We avoid empty runs, which per se have a greater impact on the environment. This only works because the partners work closely together and have a comprehensive network of warehouses at their disposal. Despite all the political ambiguities and lack of framework conditions, they are committed to sustainable action. With the advantage of regular exchanges on green activities, we can learn together from experience how sustainability works in logistics."
Sounds reasonable. Are there other sustainable projects being implemented at HP Therkelsen?
Peter Therkelsen: "We use 100 percent LED lights in the offices, and in our fleet we use only Euro 6 vehicles in addition to the gas-powered trucks. We have also equipped the trucks' cooling systems with diesel-saving solutions and we are on the way to becoming a 100 percent paperless operation. Our self-image is to become as green as possible. But in order for us to act even more sustainably, reliable political decisions must be made. Because only then will we have sufficient security for our investments and be able to actively shape the green future."
Now a more private question: apart from the Netherlands, Denmark is considered the country of cyclists. How do you get to work?
Peter Therkelsen: "By car. I have a hybrid. Since I have about 10 kilometers to work, I can drive them with an electric motor. I need hybrid because I also have to make longer journeys without longer stops. It's basically the same problem as with trucks - the most sustainable method is not enough for long distances. But electric is going to be the future for the way to work and the short distance traffic."
Thank you very much for the interesting conversation.