The path to fossil-free logistics

Olivia Hegarty

From electric-powered vehicles to trucks fuelled by vegetable oil. How will logistics become green and impact supply chains?

We are beginning to see a shift in sustainable action across all industries. In recent years, the urgency to address climate change has pushed all sectors to consider their climate impact and the necessary actions to report and reduce their carbon footprint.

The logistics sector stands out as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The European Environment Agency predicts that logistics will account for up to 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 unless effective measures are taken.

It is forcing companies to assess their supply chains and ask their logistic partners to find alternatives to burning fossil fuels, whilst also keeping up with the pressures of customer demands with faster and quicker transport.

One of the most widely discussed solutions is the adoption of all-electric vehicles. However, is this the only path forward, or is there a better approach to transitioning away from fossil fuels in logistics?

We sat with our sustainability and innovation manager Tom Isler to understand this further.

Understanding our current landscape for sustainable logistics

There are several potential routes to alternative fuels for a transition towards a more sustainable future. Currently, traditional fossil fuels dominate the transport industry, releasing a large amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere. Whilst remaining widely available, this comes with well-documented impacts on pollution and climate change.

All electric vehicles have gained considerable attention for their potential to drastically reduce emissions in transport, with charging infrastructure expanding globally. With lower emissions, they offer a promising solution to combat air pollution and mitigate the environmental impacts of logistics operations.

Electric is a good option for some forms of transport, such as trucks that have short/medium journeys, but this becomes more challenging for other vehicles, such as ocean shipping or aviation.

Alternative fuels to be used in Logistics 

HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil): HVO offers a renewable alternative to fossil fuels, derived from sources like vegetable oils or animal fats, producing carbon savings of up to 94%. The benefit of this fuel is that it is compatible with most current fuel structures, resulting in being a direct replacement for diesel engines. Its availability depends on the production and processing of these feedstocks, creating a spike in prices that are not affordable for most companies.

Hydrogen: Whilst electric vehicles are reducing in price and are a lot more accessible, their ability to travel long distances, with unpredictable routes and strict driving-time regulations, is a much bigger challenge. Hydrogen-powered fuel is proving to be the more desirable option, with faster refuelling capabilities, a greater range and lower weight than electric vehicles.

Hydrogen can be produced through both fossil and renewable sources. Blue hydrogen is derived from natural gas, while green hydrogen is generated through renewable means. However, there are currently limitations for the refuelling infrastructure needed to support the demand of producing and distributing green hydrogen at a scale, creating high costs and commitment. This does also apply to electric vehicles, when trying to understand zero emissions. 

Alternative fuels impact supply chains and end users 

There is a lot of discussion around a more sustainable supply chain with government pressures and public demand for greener practices. A large effort is required to change our currently fossil-fuelled dominated transport towards alternatives like electricity or hydrogen.

The time to create new trucks can take two years from being ordered, which with the ever-changing market can pose a risk to operators, especially to ensure the infrastructure is in place to keep them running. Currently, due to the limited availability of alternative-fuelled trucks, customers may have to pay higher costs in comparison.

While the transition to alternative fuels does come with upfront costs, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial investment. Moreover, failing to act in the face of the climate crisis poses greater financial risks.

Navigating the Transition 

The transition to sustainable fuelling methods in logistics requires a balanced approach that addresses the challenges at various stages of the supply chain.

  • Government support: Governments play a crucial role in providing incentives, regulations, and infrastructure to facilitate green practices. The UK government has invested £300 million to drive innovation for zero-emission trucks, creating new jobs and funding to help decarbonise the logistics sector.
  • Customer Education: Providing information to customers on the current carbon crisis and educating customers on the environmental benefits of sustainable logistics can help foster acceptance for higher prices and leverage the need for higher demand and longer-term benefits for the end user.
  • Technological innovation: Continued investment and research into alternative fuel methods and advancing technologies like electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles can enhance their efficiency and affordability.

Our Sustainability and Innovation manager, Tom Isler, shared his thoughts on the future of electric vehicles and how this can impact the logistics industry.

Which energy resource will be powering the trucks of 2050? Can’t begin to imagine? Neither can I, the reality of fuelling road freight in 2050 could vary from an unprogressive position of fossil fuels to giant solar-powered drones, swarming the sky with wasp-like machines. If not the next 25 years, can we at least begin to predict how the next 5 years will look in this space? Yes. The next 5 years of fuelling will be a diversified profile of electric, fossil fuel, HVO and hydrogen. The factor driving adoption of each  will be price, availability and general adaptation of fleets to use such fuels. My hunch is that, HVO will bridge the gap between fossil fuels and more innovative methods. Both the fuelling and vehicle manufacturing industry will then decide whether to back electric or hydrogen, to pursue both will be too costly in production and infrastructure provision.”

Starting your Sustainability Journey?

We are looking to ease your sustainability journey and help you report carbon emission hot spots in your supply chain and how to reduce this to become more climate efficient. Our sustainability team are here to help you cut through the jargon and explore these services.

If you would like to understand more about how to begin your sustainable journey, why not look at our Sustainable Freight Network and get in touch with our team today?

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