18 November 2019

Green logistics: Making bulk logistics more sustainable

The road haulage sector, including bulk logistics, is essential to the productivity of the UK economy. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) reports that 89 percent of all goods transported by land in Great Britain are moved directly by road, and that road haulage is the UK’s fifth largest employer. Unfortunately, all that activity is bound to have an impact on the environment.

According to the Freight Transport Association (FTA), transport now accounts for approximately 25 percent  of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Haulage companies undoubtedly have a responsibility to do what they can to limit this, and the government’s Road to Zero Strategy provides guidance on what needs to change, in order to achieve a new industry-wide voluntary target of reducing 2015 HGV emission levels by 15 percent by 2025. Key to this is making our transport infrastructure itself – roads, motorways and vehicles - more sustainable. ‘Green logistics’ and sustainability are becoming increasingly important considerations for bulk logistics fleet managers, so how might a more sustainable transport infrastructure impact the industry?

Clean Air Zones

More and more UK cities are in the process of planning and developing Clean Air Zones (CAZs), most of which include proposed levies on diesel vehicles, plus heavy charges for HGVs – typically £100 per day. London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone already runs 24/7, 365 days a year, and access costs a daily charge of £100 for lorries over 3.5 tonnes that do not meet Euro VI standards.

The proposed CAZ charges for HGVs are considerable, and there have been multiple concerns voiced from the logistics sector as a result. A coalition of trade bodies, including the RHA and the FTA, have come together to query the plans, citing financial damage to logistics SMEs and disruption to essential supply chains and the UK economy, among other key issues. It’s certainly true that there is currently no alternative to HGVs for urban bulk logistics drops, and that a larger vehicle can carry the cargo of many smaller vehicles, therefore reducing the number of vehicles on the road and easing congestion. It remains to be seen whether local authorities will reconsider their CAZ plans relating to HGVs, but it’s definitely something bulk logistics fleet managers should keep on the radar.

Hybrid vehicles

As part of the Road to Zero, the government’s long-term goal is to develop and deploy zero emission HGVs. There are updates to infrastructure needed on a vast scale before this is viable though, including:        

  • The establishment of depot electric vehicle chargers nationwide
  • Additional electricity generation, and
  • A ramping up of zero emission HGV design and manufacture.

In the meantime, gas-electric plug-in hybrid HGVs offer a shorter-term solution, particularly those that use hydrogen, a clean, emission-free gas that’squick to refuel. Of course, the UK will need more hydrogen refuelling stations, but there are plans to have 65 across the country by 2020. As the need to adopt alternative fuels increases, bulk logistics fleet managers are likely to feel the pressure to diversify their fleets with hybrid vehicles.    

Electric road systems

While the infrastructure that would enable widespread use of electric HGVs is a long way off, another scenario that’s been explored is a system of ‘electric roads’, created through overhead conductive technology that would power electric vehicles as they travel.

In its report into Zero Emission HGV InfrastructureRequirements, the Committee on Climate Change weighed up the possibility of introducing electric road systems for HGVs, including installing catenaries above motorways and connecting them to HGVs via a pantograph, conductive rail technology built into road surfaces that effectively charges vehicles as they drive, and inductive wireless power transfer, which works via coils built into the road. Any of these scenarios would revolutionise the bulk logistics industry, but would require major investment and extensive road works and maintenance.

Boost your green logistics credentials with bulk logistics optimisation

Whatever is around the corner in terms of green logistics and sustainable infrastructure, the best way for bulk logistics companies to ensure their operations are as sustainable as possible right now is a digital optimisation system. A system like Touchstar’s makes it simple to track important sustainability metrics within your fleet, such as driver behaviour, vehicle performance and load levels, so you can finetune operations until they’re as efficient as can be. To find out more about how our optimisation solutions can boost sustainability in your business, get in touch with us today.       

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