Road freight heading for the green fast lane, new report suggests

An electric Volvo Truck / Credit: Volvo Trucks

A new report outlines a roadmap for the decarbonisation of road freight through the “critical” next decade The road freight sector is nearing a decarbonisation tipping point, with hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles likely to become commercially viable at scale within the next five to 10 years. That is the heartening outlook offered by more than 150 global road freight leaders, surveyed for a new report published today by Shell and Deloitte that sets out a detailed ten-year roadmap for decarbonising road freight.

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The report also found that decarbonisation is considered a key challenge for the sector, with more than 70 per cent of the 158 interviewees labelling it as the leading or top three priority for their organisation.

“The next 10 years will be critically important for the road freight sector to introduce zero emission vehicles into the global fleet, and it is very encouraging that road freight leaders have already begun to align on a technology pathway,” said Carlos Maurer, executive vice president of sectors and decarbonisation at Shell. “We believe that once produced at scale, hydrogen will likely be the more cost-effective and viable pathway to net zero emissions for heavy duty and long-route medium duty vehicles, and electric mobility will do the same for light duty and short-route medium duty vehicles,” he added. The analysis finds that to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, absolute emissions from road freight will need to decline by almost 60 per cent globally by 2050 – a decline that will have to be achieved at the same time as total road freight volume is expected to double.

Meeting this goal will clearly be challenging, and 80 per cent of the study’s participants highlighted a lack of regulatory incentives, together with the complexity of infrastructure replacement, as the biggest barriers to delivering decarbonisation across the sector. The report advises that companies should already be prioritising the replacement of trucks and buses in viable short-range and urban settings using available zero emission hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles. It also counsels industry players to coordinate their fleet replacement activity in order to increase the deployment of zero-emission trucks and fuels in regional clusters and along high-traffic corridors – an approach that should bolster the economic case for new recharging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

The report also considers some of the milestones along the way to full decarbonisation, recommending that lower emission fuels such as liquified natural gas (LNG), bioLNG, compressed natural gas, and biodiesel should be commercialised quickly around existing points of supply, but not in a way that could disrupt the deployment of fully zero-emission solutions. Meanwhile, immediate emission reductions can be achieved for fleets with diesel powered trucks by improving truck design and employing digital solutions to optimise fleet efficiency, the report noted. “Trucks move virtually everything modern society depends on for daily life and during the current COVID-19 crisis, society has experienced just how critical road freight is in delivering essential goods,” said Huibert Vigeveno, downstream director at Shell. “Fleet companies, truck manufacturers and energy providers have already started investing in low and zero emission solutions, but the sector requires a more robust set of policies and regulations to accelerate change.”

Road freight is currently responsible for around nine per cent of global CO2 permissions, while in the UK HGVs alone account for 4.2 per cent of the country’s total carbon emissions.

For years cutting emissions from HGVs was regarded as a major technical challenge that could take decades to overcome.

But while challenges remain, particularly in terms of charging and refuelling infrastructure, the new report demonstrates how rapid technological progress means that zero emission models are already competitive for some applications and are set to dominate the sector in the years to come.

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