Anco Hoen, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Barry Zondag, Significance


Two pathways, technological options and logistic efficiency, to reduce the CO2 emission of road freight transport are reviewed, focussing on two dimensions (1) short- and medium distance and (2) long distance transport.


The transport sector accounts for approximately 20% of total European CO2-emissions. The road freight sector is responsible for about a quarter of CO2-emissions from road transport in the EU and for some 6% of total EU emissions. CO2 emissions are still rising, mainly due to increasing road freight traffic (EC 2014). Whereas the technical potential for passenger cars to reduce CO2-emissions is large, the freight road sector is generally seen as a much more challenging sub-sector to bring in line for meeting long term climate goals (PBL 2009).
The Getting Into the Right Lane for 2050 study (PBL 2009) presented a road map to reduce CO2 emissions of freight transport by a factor of six in 2050. The pathways identified in this study are: technical options (emission regulation, alternative fuel technology), modal shift, logistic efficiency and demand control. The modal shift and intermodal options have been at the centre of freight transport research over the last two decades. Although CO2 benefits can be realized, especially for long distance transport, this is certainly not sufficient to meet the CO2 targets. The option of controlling transport demand does not seem viable at the moment as it lacks political support because of its assumed negative effects on economic growth.
In this paper we will review two pathways for CO2 emission reduction in the road freight sector, technological options and logistic efficiency improvement. We distinguish between short/medium distance and long distance freight transport, since mitigation options for both dimensions may be very different. Regarding fuel efficiency standards and alternative fuel technology we review the latest insights for heavy duty vehicles. We leave out biofuels as a technical option to reduce emissions. This is because biofuels have been subject to discussion due to issues regarding sustainability, food competition, indirect land-use emissions and availability. We are interested whether other technical measures and logistic efficiency can be sufficient to meet policy goals.
There is an ongoing debate on the reduction potential of improvements in logistic efficiency. Some people, often researchers, claim that inefficiencies in distribution processes are high and improvements could lead to a reduction in mileages (and CO2-emissions) of up to 20% or more. Others, mainly the road freight sector itself, claim that the sector is already very efficient as each additional kilometre driven leads to higher costs which the sector will try to avoid at any cost since there is much competition. We will try to shed some more light on this discussion by decomposing it into the relevant aspects such as (the ability to increase) load factors, economies of scale (size of vehicle stock firms, volume of shipments between regions) and the effects of price incentives. Important in this discussion is the difference between the efficiency potential of firms without reforms in the sectors, such as alliances or mergers. Another important aspect is that the discussion on the load factors, as a measure of efficiency, needs to be extended with the vehicle types chosen and the share of ‘empty’ vehicle kilometres. These insights are partly based on literature review, data analysis and expert-interviews held in The Netherlands and Belgium.
We conclude that that meeting long term European climate goals requires a CO2 reduction of 60-90% in this sub sector, assuming other transport modes substantially reduce their emissions as well. We found that the maximum potential to reduce CO2 emissions in this sub sector is 90%. However, fulfilling this potential would require huge up front investments, particularly in the early years of technology adoption in both vehicles and infrastructure required to supply these vehicles with the needed energy. Findings from interviews on the improvement of logistic efficiency give rise to believe that these investments are unlikely to be made. Combining cost–effective technological and logistic efficiency measures in our opinion can achieve a CO2 reduction of 20-30% in the long run. This means that alternative, cost-ineffective measures are required to meet long term policy goals.


Association for European Transport