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IEA: improving efficiency of road-freight transport critical to reduce oil-demand growth; three areas of focus

Improving the efficiency of road-freight transport is critical to reducing the growth in oil demand, carbon emissions and air pollution over the next decades, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest report, The Future of Trucks: Implications for energy and the environment.

Although trucks are a major contributor to the growth in transport-fuel consumption and emissions, the sector receives far less attention and policy focus than passenger vehicles, the IEA noted. Only four countries have energy-efficiency standards for heavy trucks, compared with some 40 countries with passenger-vehicle standards. Yet the growth in oil demand from trucks has outpaced all other sectors—including passenger cars, aviation, industry and petrochemical feedstocks—since 2000 and contributed 40% to global oil demand growth, a similar contribution as cars.

Today, trucks account for almost a fifth of global oil demand, or around 17 million barrels per day—equivalent to the combined oil production of the United States and Canada. Road freight transport relies primarily on diesel, which accounts for more than 80% of its oil use. Road freight vehicles alone accounted for about 80% of the global net increase in diesel demand since 2000, and make up about half of global diesel demand today. As a result, road freight today accounts for more than 35% of transport-related CO2 emissions, and around 7% of total energy-related CO2 emissions; and a fifth of NOx emissions.

Trucks are a key enabler of global economic activity and play an essential role in delivering goods or commodities across every point of the economic value chain, from production to sale. However, if no action is taken, oil demand from road freight is projected to grow by 5 million barrels per day by 2050, or around 40% of the projected increase in global oil demand in that period.

This growth is expected to lead to a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 900 million tonnes through 2050, or about the same level of emissions growth as from coal use in the power and the entire industry sector combined.

The main drivers of oil demand from trucks today are the United States, the European Union and China, while India is emerging as a growing contributor. Emerging and developing countries in Asia, in particular China and India, account for about 90% of the net increase in road freight oil demand over the projection period, equivalent to around 30% of total oil demand growth from all sectors.

In an effort to address this rise in demand and emissions, the IEA described a more sustainable policy pathway for truck transport that could reduce energy use in road freight by 50% and emissions by 75% by 2050.

The IEA report highlights three major areas of improvement.

  • The trucking sector can improve logistics and systems operations. This includes near-term opportunities like using Global Positioning System to optimize truck routing, as well as real-time feedback devices that monitor the on-road fuel economy of trucks.

    Greater improvements on that front will require increased cooperation, as well as the exchange of data, information and assets across the entire supply chain. This can help increase the volume or weight of cargo hauled to improve the load on each trip, but also reduce the number of trips during which trucks are running empty, such as travel taken without any load at all after having delivered the goods.

  • Second, the IEA report finds that energy-efficiency improvements for the existing fleet should include aerodynamic retrofits to reduce drag as well as low-rolling resistance tires. New trucks can use additional technologies that cut idling, use lightweight materials and take advantage of improvements to truck engines, transmissions and drivetrains. Achieving stronger cuts in fuel use, carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions requires the use of hybrids and zero emission trucks.

  • Third, using alternative fuels such as natural gas, biofuels, electricity and hydrogen can diversify fuel supply away from oil and also help reduce carbon emissions, especially if produced from low-carbon pathways.

Modern Truck Scenario. In the IEA Modern Truck Scenario, targeted efforts to modernize road freight transport reduces oil demand from road freight vehicles by nearly 16 mb/d by 2050, relative to the Reference Scenario. The Modern Truck Scenario capitalizes on the opportunities for systemic improvements in operations and logistics across all aspects of road freight, vehicle efficiency improvements and support for the use of alternative fuels.

In the Modern Truck Scenario, the energy intensity of vehicle operations (in energy used per tkm) drops by more than one-third in 2050, relative to the Reference Scenario. Improvements to logistics and road freight operations reduce tkm by 13% in 2050 and total vehicle activity (measured in vehicle-kilometers) by more than 20%.

Energy efficiency and alternative fuels, including electrification, lead to a reduction in energy intensity, relative to the Reference Scenario, of 34% in 2050. The result is that direct CO2 emissions from road freight transport decline by 2.5 Gt in 2050, or 75%, relative to the Reference Technology Scenario.

Not all elements of the Modern Truck Scenario are easily implemented, but there are three key enablers that present important near-term energy policy opportunities. Tightening fuel economy standards and expanding their geographic coverage can accelerate fuel economy improvements over the coming decades. Standards can be supported by differentiated vehicle taxation to incentivize the purchase and operation of efficient trucks. Care must be taken to ensure that test procedures reflect real-world operations and that simulation tools rely on accurate component testing. Data availability and data sharing are key prerequisites to realising some of the potential that underlies systemic improvements in freight logistics, capitalizing on the advancement of digital technologies and their application across all aspects of road freight, including supply chain and fleet management, collaboration across shippers, and the optimisation of vehicle operations. The rules of data exchange must be multilaterally defined and transparent for everyone, and confidentiality safeguarded.

Some of the potential for systemic improvements can be realized by individual operators alone, but the better the system is designed (i.e. the more operators and other stakeholders that are included), the more effective its implementation.

Support for alternative fuels and vehicles needs to cover four main areas: RD&D, market uptake of alternative fuel vehicles, adequate access to charging or refueling infrastructure and the availability of alternative energy carriers. A focus on low- or zero-emitting fuels not only at the point of use but also across the entire supply chain, both with regards to air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, can help ensure the pursuit of multiple energy policy goals at the same time.

—“The Future of Trucks”

The report benefited from a joint workshop organized by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the IEA on the future of trucks for energy and environment, held on 8 November 2016 and attended by several stakeholders, including representatives of truck manufacturers (Daimler, Scania, Volkswagen, Volvo Trucks); energy companies (Shell, ExxonMobil); other industries (Arconic, Bosch, BorgWarner, Eaton, Michelin, Siemens, Wabco); industry associations (European Automobile Manufacturers Association [ACEA], European Liaison Committee of Common Market Forwarders [CLECAT], IRU, World Business Council for Sustainable Development [WBCSD]); intergovernmental organisations (UN Environment); non-governmental and non-profit organizations (Clean Air Asia, Connekt, ICCT, Smart Freight Centre, The Energy and Resources Institute [TERI], Transport & Environment); governmental bodies (European Commission, South African National Energy Development Institute); academic and research institutions (Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, German Aerospace Center, Heriot Watt University, IFSTTAR, KAPSARC, Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research [TNO], Kuehne Logistics University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Cambridge, University of Gothenburg, University of Westminster, VTT); and consultancy firms (Ricardo Energy & Environment , CE Delft, M-FIVE).



Two... make that 2.5 technologies stand out for de-carbonizing heavy trucks.  The first is electrification, with or without operation on rail (the half-technology).  A Bladerunner truck on electrified rail would not only emit no carbon, it would have no tailpipe emissions at all and almost none from e.g. tire and brake wear.

The second one is ammonia fuel.  It has about 40% the energy density of hydrocarbons, but it is carbon-free and burns with minimal NOx.  It can be used directly in ICEs or reformed to hydrogen for fuel cells.

Use nuclear power to make the electricity and ammonia, and the system is decarbonized and almost pollution-free from end to end.


This is where a cash for clunkers will pay big dividends. Raise the tax on fossil diesel to a dollar and lower the tax on biodiesel to zero. Use the money to fund the replacement of any class 8 tractors older than 2008. Make sure they are destroyed not shipped to china/india/mexico etc..
Retro fit the tractors with a 25 gallon tank for fossil diesel. Start with diesel,stop with diesel
switch to diesel after turn off and run till biodiesel is purged. Run on biodiesel.


There isn't enough biodiesel feedstock to make such a scheme work (maybe 2 billion gallons used fryer oil per yr in the USA).  You might be able to co-fuel with e.g. methanol using a bit of diesel/biodiesel for pilot ignition, though.  That would let you use a barely-modified injection system with only the addition of a carburetor and a third fuel tank.

If you're willing to alter the fuel injection system you can make dimethyl ether from methanol and just use one fuel.

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