As the trucking and road freight industry continues to significantly contribute towards global emissions, this sector is expecting to see major decarbonisation efforts and developments in the upcoming decade.
The Trucking Industry’s Current Climate
The convenience that trucking and long-haul transportation brings to the consumer goods-producers has left much of the private and public sector unable to switch to more environmentally friendly options such as rail or aquatic shipping. With road freight and trucking accounting for 9% of the world’s emissions, a heavy focus has since been placed on efforts to decarbonise trucking. These efforts have been echoed worldwide, after the Paris Agreement in 2016, through the form of nation and region-wide policies and initiatives, to limit the level of global average temperature increasing.
As freight transportation aims to transition from fossil fuel dependency to cleaner energy, it is evident that renewable energy infrastructure investment in the next decade will be crucial for any movement towards decarbonising this sector. With examples such as the UK’s recently published Decarbonising Transport plan, the foundation for such initiatives are being laid out for the commercial sector to adopt new technology enabling cleaner transport. From projects funding the upfront costs of BEVs and FCEVs to infrastructure investment, there are multiple options available for transport operators, but the question remains, ‘To what end are the current decarbonisation goals in place realistic and feasible?’.
Current Barriers and Challenges
The barriers in place for decarbonising trucking are numerous and varied, but can be categorized into the following factors.
Convenience of Existing Infrastructure: The current transportation infrastructure in place favours fuel and diesel-powered vehicles over green energy. Although steps are being made to change this, the shortage of green electricity and hydrogen poses a barrier to the entry of BEVs and FCEVs. While current technology for batteries limits trucks to a total of 350KM before requiring a 5-hour ‘fast charge’ station break, the feasibility of operators meeting their strict time constraints is low.
Lacking Public Sector Financing and Incentives: One of the more well-known barriers is perhaps the towering costs associated with investing in BEVs and FCEVs, from the initial purchasing stage to frequent high maintenance costs. Although there are efforts being made, particularly in regions such as the EU, to help instill commercial interest in green transportation through policymaking, other regions such as the US and Asia are still lagging behind.
Market Demand of Cheaper and Faster Transportation: The world of e-commerce and consumer goods has continued to minimise shipping costs to the lowest levels possible, and by default favour the cheaper diesel and fuel shipping options. As a result, shipping operators are disincentivised to invest in sustainable transport when the demand for it is much lower. Although there is interest in switching to greener transport of goods, the over saturated and competitive nature of the road freight market continues to prioritise lower prices over zero-emission alternatives.
Many issues can be encountered when focusing on multi-modal decarbonization and enabling clean transport. The UK provides an example on how to address the aforementioned through their Decarbonising Transport plan.
Case Study: The UK’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan
After the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation fuel demand fell to unprecedented levels thus unleashing an experiment on what could be achieved when the transportation sector comes to a halt. Although maintaining such levels in a drastically short period of time may be unrealistic, progress towards cleaner transport has been happening at a fast pace and is expected to exponentially increase. After the UK government named the transportation sector as the largest emitting contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 (in 2019 the sector produced 27% of UK’s total emissions), more serious environmental commitments were made.
The UK’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, released mid-2021, sets the country’s commitments to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles by 2030. To tackle the challenges posed by this initiative, a number of government policies and regulation are being introduced to ease the transition of this sector to cleaner transport.
Subsidising Zero-emissions Trucks: Zero-emissions trucks are being introduced into the market with the primary focus on reducing emissions from the urban and regional delivery of goods. As these alternatives have significantly higher upfront costs, the UK government has committed £582 million for truck plug-in grants until 2022-23 with grant rates set at 20% of the truck’s retail price.
Increasing Maximum Vehicle Weights: Increasing the maximum weight allowance for zero-emissions or alternatively-fueled vehicles will help offset the current additional weight associated from hydrogen storage tanks and batteries.
New Road Vehicle CO2 Emissions Regulatory Framework: A green paper is to be released on how to deliver a zero emissions freight and logistics sector by the phase out dates through establishing a framework.
Infrastructure Investment: The UK government is investing £20 million in developing infrastructure supporting zero-emission vehicles which will be focused in areas such as hydrogen fuel cell trials, electronically powered road systems, innovating logistics and supply chain systems for efficiency and promoting BEVs and FCEVs to the public.
Awareness on Emission Reductions and Efficiency: The Energy Saving Trust’s online Freight Portal will be utilised for further awareness on the advantages of switching to zero emission technology and alternative fuel through training and advice.
Shifting to Rail and Maritime Shipping: The UK government will continue to encourage a shift to alternative logistics and transport methods which have a lower rate of greenhouse gas emissions.
Trucking decarbonisation efforts on a global scale:
Germany Germany has comprehensive infrastructure already set up such as overhead charging networks and the ability to further develop long-range battery applications. Currently, the nation has ambitious goals of lowering emissions by 48% in 2030 which will rely primarily on prioritisation of electric fleets and fleet emission limits. The trucking sector, which dominates 73% of traded commodities, is expecting to see stricter green policies in order to attain target emission goals.
Sweden Sweden's transport sector accounts for a third of nation-wide emissions, with road transport responsible for 90% of transport emissions. To address this, “electric goods transport pledges” were made by Sweden’s freight transportation stakeholders. They have begun evaluating the high cost but long term carbon savings that the electrification of vehicles present, over the usage of biofuels, which although cheaper, still presents threats to the environment.
United States The US similar to the UK, cites the transportation sector as the biggest contributor to its national greenhouse gas emissions, where petroleum currently accounts for 90% of the energy consumed in the sector. As a result, the country has also seen a major scaleup of operations with companies such as DHL running BEV pilots with their logistics business and car manufacturers expanding into different production lines of greener commercial vehicles.
Mexico Mexico produces some of the highest level of emissions in Latin America, and therefore plays a key role reducing the overall emissions of this particular region. 48% of the energy consumed in Mexico is directly related to the mobility of commercial goods and people, and hence a high output of greenhouse gas emissions. With transport as one of the highest growing sectors, Mexico has committed to reducing black carbon emissions by 51% by 2030.
Japan The application of hydrogen for BEVs and FCEVs is also an area currently being explored for countries such as Japan, where there is a readily available supply of hydrogen through each country’s national energy system. It is estimated that by 2040, the adoption rate of FCEVs may reach as high as half of all medium and heavy duty vehicle sales as the availability of hydrogen increases and its production costs decrease.
China China is accelerating its decarbonization efforts through the introduction of the Clean Diesel Action Plan, introduced in 2019, which places further policymaking onto diesel-powered vehicles by limiting access to high pollution areas to vehicles that are compliant with national emission standards. These efforts are to help combat poor air quality in regions of China which are prone to high levels of toxic fumes.
Can Everyone Decarbonise?
Not every country, however, can realistically meet ambitious climate goals due to their dependency on fossil fuels and diesel because of economic concerns. It is crucial to develop a plan that tackles trucking decarbonisation through a global approach, including developing countries which face numerous complexities setting up the necessary infrastructure to aid BEVs and FCEVs.
For instance, countries such as India, where the investment required to develop appropriate BEV and FCEV infrastructure would be too expensive, it may be better off utilising the available supply of biomass as the transition to zero emissions will take longer. Poorly developed infrastructure in parts of Africa, also pose a concern, as the population of the continent is expected to surpass 2 billion in 2040, thus increasing the demand for transport which inevitably will rely on non-renewable energy.
Meeting the requirements of the Paris Agreement will prove to be a challenge as road freight levels are expected to almost double by 2050 while absolute emissions will need to decrease by 60%. This has led to further urgency and the acceleration of emission-tackling plans from countries such as the US, UK, and other EU countries.
The current decade and era we are in is undoubtedly significant to the upcoming transition to zero emissions and decarbonisation. To ensure that we are able to meet current climate goals, it will be vital to balance investment of resources into both current technology to achieve quick results and also in developing new technologies to prove concepts for the coming future to provide more drastic and permanent changes to decarbonising trucking.
Sustainable Fleet Companies
Examples of companies with/investing in sustainable fleets include:
• Ingka Group (IKEA)
Top Green Fleet Manufacturers
Some of the main players for the EV fleet production market include:
• Nikola Motors
Explore the questions we can answer for you:
✓ What is/are the ideal type of petroleum-free vehicle/s for my fleet?
✓ How much does the transition truly cost in full, and how can it be funded?
✓ How do I manage the rollout of the new vehicles and infrastructure?
✓ What regulations and policies might impact the transition and what should be considered?
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