With COP26 fast approaching all eyes are on Boris Johnson to see if he will be able to deliver on the UK’s promise to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
As president of the UN Climate Change Conference, which takes place in Glasgow in November, the British prime minister must have a plan to tackle the emissions generated by the UK’s road freight industry.
Accelerating the switch to electric vehicles is an important factor towards achieving the UN’s target of zero global carbon emissions by the middle of the century and keep a 1.5 degree temperature rise within reach.
So far there has been a lot of talk about decarbonising cars and vans; but what of HGVs? ITT Hub’s inaugural logistics event, held at the end of June, presented a unique opportunity for delegates to meet suppliers, users and enablers of low carbon and alternative powered vehicles. It was a huge success and certainly got people talking. What we need now is much more action.
Road freight is vital to the functioning of the global economy. It is the most flexible mode of transport, and the primary mechanism for bringing goods to our stores and homes. It currently accounts for around 9% of global CO2 emissions, the majority of which come from medium and heavy freight trucks.
Here, Dan Cook, Operations Director at Europa Worldwide Group, looks at the various routes the transport industry could take and sketches out the most likely roadmap.
“It’s clear that the road transport industry must move away from diesel. Though, which of the alternatives will dominate remains a conundrum.
“Europa Worldwide’s road freight division Europa Road invested a lot of time and money investigating the viability of electric vehicles, with a plan to take one or two large rigid trucks (18 / 26T) into our distribution fleet, with a focus on work in and around London, so within a reasonable distance range of our Dartford hub. Unfortunately, the huge cost of the technology made the project unviable.
“This is worrying as Europa Road is a large and highly respected operator, with a UK network of 13 offices which trunk into Europa’s Dartford 1Hub, where freight connects with daily, direct services to 30 continental hubs, transporting over 45,000 consignments per month with over 2,000 collections and deliveries every day. So, it is imperative that we find a cost-effective solution for our business. I believe in the long term, that this will become a prerequisite for customers so that they can demonstrate their own green credentials.
“But to achieve this, one of two things needs to happen: either the government must provide subsidies to help the industry go green – at least until the cost of the technology reduces – or road transporters will need to look at alternative, more affordable fuels.
“One interesting option is the use of biomethane that can be produced from landfill and the anaerobic digestion of a variety of wastes, such as food, commercial and industrial wastes and sewage sludge. But this is an expensive option.
“Alternatives include biofuels, synthetic diesel oil and, ultimately, the electrification of roads.
“Currently, there is a lack of customer demand for greener road freight options – presumably because they will push up the cost of transporting goods. So, I think we are still a long way from a workable option. I think governments need to settle on one technology and go all out to bring it to market on a scalable and cost-effective basis.
“Cost is not the only barrier. Another huge hurdle is the availability of infrastructure that will make refueling as convenient as it is today. Fuel stations across our road infrastructure are no more than 10km apart on average. If you can only fuel / charge / or whatever at a handful of locations, routes will need to be planned in a sub-optimal way, or certain journeys simply won’t work because there is no mid-way or end point fueling option.
“If you add into this that fact that the initial cost of a ‘green’ vehicle is much higher, then I think operators will take a NIMBY view. We all agree a move to a greener solution is the correct future direction for road freight, but can it be something somebody else does at their cost and inconvenience?
“What is needed is a focus on one technology, that is brought to the market with the flexibility and convenience that comes with how vehicles are fueled today. So, I believe this is about focusing the investment on one type, and then making sure there is enough scale to make it truly useable.
“I think if the government are serious, as they should be, about moving the transport industry towards alternative greener solutions, including battery and hydrogen technologies, then there needs to be far more investment either subsidising the current cost levels or developing the technology so that it costs less in the first place.”
Operating the UK’s largest European Groupage Hub, Europa Road is part of pioneering operator Europa Worldwide Group. Europa Road’s dedicated services feature a Network Groupage and Non-Network Solutions (for full and part loads) for European road freight into and out of Europe.