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ITF: measures to decrease road freight CO2 emissions

A new brief published by the International Transport Forum (ITF)—an intergovernmental organization at the OECD with 59 member countries—identifies proven measures that decrease road freight’s CO2 emissions.

Moving goods by road consumes about 50% of all diesel produced; 80% of the global net increase in diesel use since 2000 comes from road freight. Furthermore, road freight activity is set to more than double from 2015 to 2050. This will offset any expected efficiency gains and lead to an increase in emissions by 2050, not a reduction.

Trucks represent the fastest growing source of global oil demand. They account for 40% of the expected increase in oil demand to 2050 and 15% of the increase in global CO2 emissions. Trucks will even surpass passenger cars as the major oil consumers.

The ITF report highlights policy areas that need adjustment for effective decarbonization of road freight and points to fields where more robust evidence through further research is needed. It collects insights held at a workshop organized by the International Transport Forum in June 2018 in Paris and features the results of a survey among experts.

Road freight decarbonization now requires implementing the easy-to-adopt measures that have already shown their efficacy in reducing emissions—low-tech solutions or already mature technology. However, achieving climate change targets will also require the widespread adoption of solutions that are not yet fully developed, whether in logistics or technology. Policy needs to evolve in order to create a favorable environment for the deployment of these solutions. It also must adjust to emerging trends that can further disrupt a sector that is already witnessing a transformation.

Improved and extended data collection is critical to designing and re-assessing these policies. The timing and exact configuration of road freight decarbonization pathways should be adjusted to the different geographies and economies of each region around the world. Naturally, much of the discussion on the cost-benefit comparison of decarbonizing alternatives—particularly on alternative fuel solutions for long- haul heavy trucks—is based on assumptions about future technological developments that are uncertain.

—“Towards Road Freight Decarbonization: Trends, Measures and Policies”

The report makes a number of recommendations:

  • Broaden access to relevant data and improve their analytical uses for policies to decarbonize road freight transport. Beyond emissions accounting, data are also essential for evaluating the impact of new and disruptive business models and the potential impacts of new vehicle technologies. Relevant data for properly estimating critical indicators exist in many countries, but they are mostly company-owned. Access to private data for public entities is thus important.

    Commercial interests and privacy concerns need to be properly taken into account. New modelling tools and more disaggregated approaches will help obtain additional insights for policy makers as well as the road freight industry.

  • Scale up tested and low-barrier decarbonization measures for road freight transport. Technologies that improve the fuel efficiency of heavy goods vehicles are a fundamental component of decarbonizing road freight. These include aerodynamic retrofits, reduced-rolling resistance of tires, vehicle weight reduction, increased engine efficiency and hybridization.

    Ambitious fuel economy and CO2 emission standards will help widespread deployment of these measures. It is critical that these standards include heavy freight trucks. For urban freight operations, alternative fuels already provide a viable commercial solution, or shortly will.

    Policy should foster measures such as the adoption of alternative fuels for urban logistics operations through pricing mechanisms and other incentives, stricter emission standards, zero emissions zones, recharging infrastructure and policies geared towards adoption of alternative fuels by large fleets. Prime examples of low hanging fruit include eco-driving training and fewer restrictions on truck length and weight to maximise efficiencies from the introduction of high capacity vehicles (HCVs) on certain corridors. Further measures include the adoption of common standards for new equipment and processes, promoting off-peak deliveries, creation of collection points, route optimisation or voluntary emissions reduction programmes with set targets.

  • Seek ways to overcome regulatory barriers to collaboration in the logistics sector. Collaboration between logistics companies has the potential to generate significant cost savings and emissions reductions. So far, inter-company collaboration has taken place at an experimental level alone. Scaling up collaboration will be critical to unlocking the significant decarbonization potential.

    Antitrust legislation sometimes hinders horizontal collaboration and legal risk has already prevented some trials. Digital collaboration platforms, operated by neutral trusted third parties, offer a promising pathway to overcome these barriers and offer the prospect of a pathway towards the “physical internet”. Logistics firms should deploy new digital technologies in ways that allow them to enhance collaboration with other companies, with a view to deliver more efficient logistics services while complying with regulation and protecting their sensitive commercial information. Policy should support the sector in this effort.

  • Demonstrate the business case for investing in decarbonization measures. Road freight is a commercial business operated by profit-driven private companies. In passenger transport, public bodies have a role including as service providers and trip choices are made by individuals. Logistics companies, however, have wide discretion over their operating mode and supply chains, and therefore need to play a leading role in decarbonizing road freight. Firms have a self-interest in improving operational performance to cut costs. Fleet owners, shippers, retailers, hauliers and other stakeholder will only invest in these improvements, however, if the return rate, the payback periods and the risk level are attractive enough. In order to change behaviors in the industry it is necessary to make the business case for new logistical practices as well as pointing out their wider societal benefits.

  • In the mid to long-term, mainstream the use of alternative fuels with zero CO2 emissions for road freight transport. Long-haul heavy trucks generate most of road freight’s energy needs and CO2 emissions. Yet the larger the vehicles and the longer their range, the more difficult it is to find cost-effective alternative, low- or zero-emission fuels.

    It is not foreseeable that zero-emissions propulsion for long-haul heavy freight trucks will come into widespread use in the short- to medium-term. However, such solutions need to be in general use by 2050 or earlier to reach agreed climate change targets.

    Direct supply of electric energy to the vehicle (“electric roads”), hydrogen and possibly electric batteries are currently foreseeable decarbonizing technologies for heavy-duty long-haulage, although this assumes zero-carbon generation of electric power and hydrogen.

    It is unlikely that one single option can replace internal combustion engines. Even if electric roads can efficiently power long-haul road freight, they will not cover all trips. Hydrogen, electric batteries or advanced biofuels could complement them where electric road infrastructure is not in place.

    Strategic policy choices are likely required on the set of alternative fuels that will be scaled up. They will involve significant funding, especially for supply infrastructure. Scaling up solutions implies prioritizing, yet some flexibility should be maintained over the short term. Trial and error is part of the prioritization process, and further research and pilot projects should be encouraged.

    Breakthroughs in low-carbon liquid fuels, such as advanced biofuels or synthetic renewable fuels (“e-fuels”), or an acceleration in the deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) should not be ruled out, even if not foreseeable at present.

  • Tailor decarbonizing pathways to the economic and geographical realities of different country groups. Given the different geographic, economic, regulatory and infrastructure conditions, a set of road freight decarbonization strategies for each region is more suitable than a universal approach.

    In advanced countries, electric roads may become operational within a relatively short time-frame. For many developing countries, improving the quality of diesel fuel and renewing the fleets of old, mostly second-hand trucks to reduce “black carbon” emissions are among the immediate tasks. Increasing driver training and maintenance levels would also contribute to lowering emissions. In some regions, biofuels production may be close to carbon-neutral and cost-effective, but far from it in others.



I'm surprised to find no mention of ammonia in this piece.  It is a carbon-free fuel which cannot generate particulate emissions.

One solution to the problem of long-haul truck energy supplies is to get rid of the long-haul trucks.  Electrified rail is emissions-free at the point of use and has the potential to run faster than trucks can safely go.  It requires some solutions for the first and last mile, but that's amenable to electric vehicles.

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