OUR SAY: Zero-emission future, but how to get there?

Pollution-free trucks part of a very near future, but up to industry to figure out how to make it happen

By Jason Whittaker

Pollution-free trucks are not the stuff of science fiction but part of a very near future, at least according to Professor Ross Garnaut. But it seems it is up to the industry to figure out how to make it happen.

In fact, if there is an emerging theme in the work of Garnaut – other than the desperate need for radical and urgent action on climate change – it is in the need for collaboration.

Deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are only possible, the Federal Government’s climate change guru argues, with all countries contributing to abatement efforts. And perhaps even more importantly, collaboration across business networks, particularly in the transport chain, is crucial.

The challenge for any major business in a carbon-constrained world is two-fold: to reduce their own operational carbon footprints while working up and down the chain to help suppliers and logistics partners reduce theirs.

Distribution networks, Garnaut says, could be in for a radical shake-up. The proximity of distribution infrastructure to end customers, the logic of multiple freight handling to consolidate freight channels, is now all on the table.

Garnaut paints a particularly optimistic picture of a much wider take-up of diesel-electric hybrid trucks for urban deliveries and even near zero-emission heavy trucks for linehaul work (combined with a greater modal shift to rail). All that, he says ambitiously, could happen in under a decade.

Rising diesel prices will drive the move to cleaner, greener transport fuel technologies, Garnaut asserts. But what he fails to mention is those same cost increases will leave very little money for developing these solutions - or at least purchasing them - to the point where they are widely available and commercially viable.

Most transporters are simply engaged in a constant struggle to recoup their costs, let alone have the time and capital to invest in replacing their fleet and developing alternative fuel strategies. Short of switching to biodiesel, which remains in limited availability and with question marks over engine degradation, and implementing better route scheduling and driver training, which has some demonstrated tangible impact, there is very little most operators can do to reduce their vehicle emissions by any amount Garnaut might hope.

And anyway, the practical and economic logic behind operators developing technology in-house for their exclusive use just isn’t there. All parties in the supply chain must share the best ideas and collectively develop the solutions – transporters, clients, customers, consumers, vehicle and equipment manufacturers, and certainly governments which must provide the incentive to invest in technology.

Garnaut argues Australian business possibly has the most to lose from the impact of climate change on the planet. The Australian transport sector, then, has the opportunity to gain advantage in the global market by reducing a carbon footprint that according to Garnaut's report could quadruple this century with no action.

Rising fuel costs, the added impost of future carbon pricing and customer demands for greener transport solutions provide the perfect storm for the transport and logistics sector to unite like never before.

What can you do to reduce carbon emissions? How should the industry as a whole tackle the development of greener fuel technologies? Have your say below…

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