Industry Issues, Transport Features

What can be done to solve road freight emissions in Australia?

For this week’s feature, ATN looks deeper into road freight emissions issues and what the industry can do to solve it

Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to be a major problem here in Australia, and there have been many reasons why. A major cause of that has been transport. The issue could become much worse.

A recent report by the Climateworks Centre has discovered that, in 2021, transport emissions contributed approximately 20 per cent of Australia’s domestic emissions. If trends continue by 2030, it could become the largest contributor.

Freight makes up a fair chunk of those emissions at just under 40 per cent, with road transport contributing the most to the freight sector at 83 per cent.

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“People are unaware of how high the emissions are in road freight,” Climateworks transport program lead and report author Helen Rowe told ATN.

The report, ‘Delivering freight decarbonisation: Strategies for reducing Australia’s transport emissions’ says that in the past, reducing these emissions was considered too hard to achieve. But now, with global momentum and an increasing interest in zero emissions in Australia, there’s a chance to build on past efforts and start reducing these emissions.

Rowe says one of the keys to the increased interest in zero emissions has been the uptake of smaller short haul electric vehicles. More and more of these vehicles have started to pop around, while test runs have started to ramp up here in Australia.

For example, earlier this month Shippit and Parcelrun announced that they had teamed up and begun a zero-emission last mile delivery partnership in Sydney’s CBD. This follows similar successful programs in London and New York. Rowe says this is just one of the solutions for reducing short-haul freight emissions.

“Things like distribution hubs are a great idea to make sure you’ve got the lowest emission vehicle during the deliveries,” Rowe says.

“It’s about making sure you don’t have a large truck delivering one item to create those kinds of delivery efficiencies in that space.”

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Meanwhile, long-haul vehicles, such as electric trucks, have seen an increased uptake in that area due to experiments and tests taking place globally in continents such as the United States and Europe.

A strong example of this is European heavy vehicle manufacturing company Scania, who has led the way when it comes to battery-powered solutions. It has recently started producing a new battery electric vehicle that was unveiled just over a year ago. These new battery vehicles have an engine power of 400-450 kW and can be used for a wide array of truck applications.

With Australia’s current axle limits, these long-haul solutions may have to wait a little bit. However, progress has been made in the area, with Australia’s width limit for trucks changing only a matter of weeks ago, meaning people could see axle limits change sooner than they think.

“There’s a technology solution that could help us decarbonise a big chunk of our road emissions, but at the moment we can’t deploy them in Australia and there’s a lot of interest in uptake in that area,” Rowe says.

Experiments are currently taking place in Australia too. Recently, Team Global Express has teamed up with ARENA in conducting one of the largest trials of an electric truck fleet here in Australia of approximately 60 heavy duty trucks. CHL, Holcim Australia and Janus Electric have also done retrofitting experiments.

While these experiments on long-haul solutions are taking place globally, the report’s lead author Dechen Dolker says it’s still not easy to put a timeline on when solutions for long-haul trucks will become available here in Australia.

“As much as we can we need to test, test, test, evaluate and assess it so that everybody’s happy about the performance of these vehicles,” Dolker told ATN.

On the other hand, with experiments and trials ramping up on short-haul solutions, the report suggests that implementation should take place as soon as possible. It added that implementation could offer an opportunity for government and business to kickstart freight emissions reduction.

The report puts forth different types of recommendations to the government, particularly for short haul. One of these comes in the form of boosting the supply of electric trucks in Australia.

“For instance, we know that in the US at least up to some 30 Tonne trucks are available in battery electric,” Delker says.

“Those could be made available in Australia, so what is it that’s holding us back? That’s something that the government can look into by addressing the supply side of it.”

The other part of it is demand, with the report suggesting that in order to make operators interested in buying it as well as keeping them interested in it, there are plans to make total cost of ownership lower by reducing operating expenses and upfront costs.

While the report recognises the fact that it’s a fragmented industry in Australia, Rowe added that incentivising these operators to see this as an advantageous opportunity will be key.

“Are there things like advantageous access you can get, if you’re driving a zero-emission vehicle and you’re driving into an area that’s high density and the urban area was city, near a port or near communities? If so, you might be able to drive longer hours on parts of the network you won’t normally be able to drive on,” Rowe says.

“We want to start thinking about how to incentivise the uptake of those new technologies by giving operators a real tangible advantage in doing so.”

People using these freight services, such as large supermarkets, are becoming more interested in lowering emissions, which Rowe says could incentivise these operators into purchasing lower emission vehicles.

“At this point in time for the industry it’s about forward planning and knowing that your customer base might be thinking about these things really quickly if they’re not already,” Rowe says.

“I also encourage the industry to be proactive and get on the front foot with this issue.”

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