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Revolutionary changes needed to meet carbon targets

07 December 2015

Consolidation centres, re-scheduled deliveries and larger vehicles are all needed to reduce road transport's carbon footprint.

Revolutionary changes in the way goods carrying vehicles are used are necessary to achieve a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions from the UK's road transport fleet and assist in the nation's greenhouse gas reduction (GHG) target for 2050. This is the conclusion of research findings produced by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (CfSRF), a consortium of Cambridge and Heriot-Watt Universities and organisations in the freight, logistics and vehicle engineering sectors.

The findings, which exclude the benefits of technological enhancements being developed by vehicle and engine makers, point to the enhanced use of out of town consolidation centres, rescheduled deliveries to allow a longer operation period for distribution and larger, heavier vehicles. A combination of these measures could reduce emissions from goods vehicles by around 25% by 2035 compared to today's levels.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has just published "The Fifth Carbon Budget - The next step to a low carbon economy" including important research findings from the CfSRF in a study specially commissioned by the CCC. It reviewed demand-side measures which could be implemented by freight operators affecting the use of HGVs rather than new truck technical specifications. The types of potential carbon savings analysed were operator efficiency and logistics measures, including:

    1.    Technological improvements to existing vehicles, e.g. improved aerodynamics and measures to promote more efficient driving styles reducing the carbon intensity of a given HGV km.

    2.    Improvements to logistics operations from measures such as improved routing, use of urban consolidation centres, reduced empty running and use of computerised technologies. These measures reduce emissions by reducing overall distance driven by HGVs.

"Meeting the 2050 GHG emissions reduction target at a manageable cost will require significant decarbonisation of the transport sector", says Dr Maja Piecyk, Deputy Director of CfSRF. "Although all forms of domestic transport only account for 21% of total GHG emissions in the UK, road freight is the second largest source of transport emissions, accounting for 22% (24MtCO2e) of surface transport emissions in 2013. This sector is notoriously difficult to decarbonise due to the limited scope for alternative power train options. So we need savings from logistics measures like reduced empty running, extended delivery times, use of urban consolidation centres and larger, heavier vehicles on long haul".

The study identified a number of key areas that policy makers might consider to facilitate the transition to more efficient logistics operations. Key areas that would need to be addressed over the next 20 years are:

    •    Improving availability of logistics data to facilitate collaboration and improved planning operations.

    •    Clarification of permissible forms of collaboration in the context of anti-competitive regulation.

    •    The development of strategies to permit the use of longer heavier vehicles.

    •    Facilitation of land use considerations for urban consolidation centres.

The CfSRF study can be found here.