The drive for a greener transport industry
Environmental regulations around the world are increasingly directed at the road transport sector. The EU low emissions mobility strategy, for instance, was adopted in July 2016 to push the road freight industry towards reductions in energy-related CO2 emissions. Considering road transport is still the second largest source of emissions in the EU, it seems the industry has been slower than others in cutting emissions.
On a global level, road freight currently accounts for almost 25% of world energy-related CO2 emissions, with heavy duty vehicles (HDVs) consuming half the oil in global road transport every year. At the current rate, by 2050 there will be an estimated 50% increase in transport energy demand despite current regulations. In this scenario, environmental legislation is only likely to strengthen.
In response to these challenges, new sub-markets are emerging to support the transport industry’s transition into operating on a greener landscape. These include recent electric truck innovations, the rise of alternative biofuels, and even increasing use of digital management tools geared towards helping fleets mitigate their impact on pollution.
The e-truck market takes charge
To imagine the most drastic transformation of road transport, we may look towards electric truck (e-truck) industry as recently unveiled by Tesla in 2017. The chargeable lorries run on electricity alone, thus proving the viability of electrification of commercial vehicles for the first time. While Tesla’s truck is still at the prototype stage, other companies including Mercedes-Benz also have designs in the works.
But most people wonder: will the e-truck phenomenon really take off? One study concluded that, yes, “switching behaviour towards electric vehicles is expected to be faster for fleet operators than for consumers who are considering electric passenger cars,” thanks to both regulation demand and the industry’s rapid fleet turnover.
While this might be the case, there are still a range of problems with e-trucks that prevent them from going on the road. On one hand, fleet owners first need to be willing to make the investment in e-trucks – a significantly higher expense. But since it’s such new technology, the long-term financial effects are yet unknown, and operational risks also need to be better established. Until those issues are fixed, it seems we won’t be we making e-truck shipments just yet.
Biofuels as an alternative
While we wait to see how far e-trucking will get into mainstream usage, biofuels appear to be the most widespread solution today, and one that promises to gradually eliminate use of fossil fuels. Biofuels are the only low-carbon fuel suitable for heavy transport modes including diesel trucks of a gross weight of 16 tonnes and more.
Being a renewable and biodegradable fuel, they are formulated using vegetable oils, animal fats, and recycled grease in a process called “esterification”. They also burn more cleanly and produce significantly fewer CO2 emissions than diesel or gas. Though they currently make up only 3% of total road transport fuel today, biofuel production has shot up over the last ten years, reaching 82,000 million tonnes of oil equivalent in 2016 and rising steadily since.
While still being the more expensive option for fleet owners, as incentives from legislation like London’s congestion charge increase, biofuels will become more attractive from a financial perspective. There are various government policies around the world driving biofuel development. To date, more than 50 countries have now adopted blending mandates and targets to support biofuel. Aside from the EU, the major blending mandates that will drive global demand are those set in the US, China and Brazil, all of which have strict targets and in the case of Brazil already accomplished desired levels of 15-27% by 2020-2022 last year.
Better planning, greener fleets
Yet in an industry with such complex supply chain issues, biofuel still presents an added expense which many fleet operators can’t afford. The cheaper solution, it seems, lies in digital technologies. There are now tools that enable real-time monitoring to allow exporters, importers, distributors, and manufacturers to understand the environmental impact of their supply chains. One such digital solution has been developed by Total partner OnTruck, which optimises routes for shippers and carriers via mobile app.
In addition to standard CO2 calculators, there are companies such as Energy Saving Trust helping fleets understand their data. As Leon Simmons of another road transport sustainability network, Connekt, affirms: “It is much easier than you think. You will get information you never had before. By measuring step by step and dividing your supply chain into smaller legs, you will be able to get information about each mode and each leg.” Some have no choice but to do this, with France already being the first country to require companies to report their logistics CO2 emissions by law.
This month, European Commission is also currently discussing the possibility of new legislation regarding CO2 emissions from HDVs, with their meeting concluding on 29th January. It’s yet to be seen whether any legislation will come of it, but as regulations towards lower emissions are likely to spread on a global level, the transport industry will have to adapt.