Electric trucks key for full decarbonisation of freight emissions

25 October 2018 Consultancy.eu 5 min. read

Under a Paris Agreement compatible pathway, full decarbonisation of global freight emissions should be targeted to around 2050, especially in advanced economies. According to a new report, achieving this will only be possible through the adoption of electrified trucks.

Transforming the global economy towards more sustainable forms of resource utilisation will require a coordinated effort across a host of industries and practices. While transportation is increasingly moving towards battery-powered light vehicles, the freight industry faces a number of challenges around scale and economy. Various efforts are proposed to limit the impact of the industry, including EV trucks and an increased focus on rail, as well as a reduction in demand for freight.

In recent years the transformation of the light-vehicle fleet has featured prominently in the news, with various vehicle manufacturers to switch to electric vehicle production. Yet, while light-vehicles have had considerable focus, around 40% of all emissions from the transport sector come from freight vehicles – which in turn account for around 70% of all freight emissions. New analysis from sustainable energy consultancy Ecofys (part of Navigant) explores the current focus on decarbonising the wider overland transportation segment – particularly as to trucking.

On the road decarbonisation by 2050 – electrified trucking in EU

Transportation is a key area of need for innovation to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement target of 2.0C, with a strong preference for 1.5C. Overall emission cuts to transportation, to have a good chance of meeting the 1.5C target, will see the sector need to decrease its emission profile by two thirds by 2050.

The targets for developed economies are considerably higher however. In the EU for instance, the sector will need to reduce its impact by 90% below 2010 levels before 2050 for a 50 percent chance of achieving 1.75C by 2100. Yet, the Ecofys analysis shows that to hit the 1.5C target, complete decarbonisation of on-road freight travel by 2050 is required in developed economies, as well as near such levels in developing economies. Such efforts are no small feat and will require concerted effort.

The effect of modal shifts on emissions in freight transportation

Modal shifts, from on-road freight to trains, while part of the wider transformation of the sector, can only shift so much. In Europe there are major challenges, with various economies not set up to meet freight demand by rail, which, coupled with changing demand models see such a shift behind considerable changes in technology. 

Improvements to the energy efficiency of trucks too could support reductions in emissions profiles – although incentives to push such improvements, coupled with electric drive trains, are currently not being implemented. Another solution is a reduction in demand, with focus on localised production – however, even here barriers remain.

Opportunities to strengthen action in EU transport emissions from now to 2030

To have a realistic chance of meeting the Paris Agreement’s long-tern goals, Ecofys contends freight trucks will need to be almost fully decarbonised by around 2050. Decarbonisation of the segment would largely be through various new locomotive technologies – provided the consumed electricity is also zero emissions – with fully electric trucks projected to be cost effective against ICE trucks by 2020.  Given typical vehicle lifetimes, the firm says, low-carbon technologies should start at scale by around 2030.

“To achieve the Paris Agreement’s long term goal, we need significant advancements in technologies that allow full decarbonisation, i.e. electrification, hydrogen or synthetic fuels. These need to be deployed in addition to options which are already readily available today, including efficiency and demand reduction measures, modal shifts and biofuel blending. This needs to take place in conjunction with a decarbonised renewable energy-based power sector,” the report states.

The firm adds in conclusion; “Countries need to ramp up investments in electrifying the sector, as well as provide incentives for private investments and mandatory sales targets for manufacturers. At the same time countries need to support Research and Development investments into other promising options for decarbonising the freight transport sector.”

Related: Trends in trucking: Self-driving trucks, electrification and digitalisation.