Over the last few years, we have begun to see transport logistics transform to meet the ambitious goals set to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
This ambitious target, set out as part of a ten-point plan by the government last year, will lead to no new petrol or diesel vehicles being sold from 2030, and significant investment into zero-emissions solutions to replace the current transport vehicles on the road.
Many people are adapting to this and have switched from petrol or diesel cars to plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, helped by grants to add charge points to their homes and office parking spaces.
However, for commercial vehicles, far more infrastructural change is needed to decarbonise the fleet without increasing costs or reducing efficiency.
The Road Haulage Association recently published a paper called Eliminate – Minimise – Offset which explores these complexities and paints a picture as to how road freight will change over the next nine years.
New Fuels And New Infrastructure
The biggest change that will need to be made is to make sure the infrastructure is in place to replace fossil fuels with alternative fuel sources that are energy-efficient, high capacity, easily replenished, and widely available across the existing network.
The range will be the key to any widespread adoption of a new type of engine, and the key reason why electric trucks are still some time away has a lot to do with battery ranges.
Batteries are highly affected by climate, temperature and age, and the current average range of electric vehicles is just shy of 200 miles according to NimbleFins.
This is up to five times less than many long-range trucks, and given that charging times range between 30 minutes and several hours, this can reduce the viability of electric vehicles for long-range transport.
Another option is plug-in hybrids, which are electric cars that also generate electricity through the use of fuels. This is a more popular option, as these vehicles can be used with the existing road network.
Through the use of less polluting fuels or fuels where the carbon cost is offset, such as using efficient biofuels to fuel advanced hybrid motors, these vehicles can become potentially carbon neutral.
However as hybrid engines are also expected to be phased out in 2035, another solution is needed in the long term.
Hydrogen fuel looks to be a potential solution, as hydrogen is a highly plentiful element and reacts with oxygen to create power for an electric motor, with the only byproduct of this being water.
At one point, it looked like this would become the future with the help of a few pioneering companies that looked to create the vast infrastructure required to make hydrogen vehicles affordable.
This includes the fuel cells themselves which currently rely on platinum as well as generating the amount of hydrogen needed and fuelling stations to top up the fuel cells.
Whichever system is used, it will need infrastructural development and be based around technical innovation and the 12-year average replacement cycle for freight vehicles.