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decarbonising commercial road transport

what is the way ahead?

Our clean fuels experts Belinda Perriman and John Buxton start tackling the hot topic of “greening” commercial road transport…

Many new and exciting options are developing for the “greening” of commercial road freight. Given that road transport accounts for some 9% of global CO2 emissions, it’s a critical topic which is creating much lively debate. But if transport is your business, or crucial to your area, what information (and what support) do you need to make decisions on fuel and transportation options that emit less carbon and generate less pollution? Which cleaner-burning compressed or liquefied gases (CNG, LNG, Hydrogen) or which biofuel mixes are going to be available where and at what price for HGVs and other fleet vehicles? Is there some sort of roadmap?

The UK as an example……

Post Brexit, Britain’s established transport hubs will be working hard to maintain their competitive positions and to take a lead on decarbonisation. Transport hubs have played a critical role in the UK’s domestic and international supply and value chains since the Industrial Revolution, contributing billions of pounds to UK GDP year on year. You could be forgiven for forgetting from your school days that the UK’s transport hubs are built on its unique geography: around seaports and the (originally) coal-burning industries and transportation networks that developed on the shores of the major river mouths: Teesside, Humberside, Grangemouth and Merseyside, plus South Wales and Southampton.

Whilst these industrial hubs are now fuelled primarily by natural gas, these and other industrial emissions still make up around 20% of overall UK emissions:

With the first carbon capture projects due to be onstream around 2025 and more to come by 2030, millions of tonnes of CO2 will be collected and transported offshore for permanent storage kilometres below the seabed. Where feasible, no longer used oil & gas pipelines will be used, reversing the flow direction and turning oil & gas production wells into injection wells for CO2. You may have caught this as Point 8 of the UK Government’s November 2020 “10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”

Projects are already moving into design phase at these hubs to produce large volumes of clean hydrogen. For example: HyNet based around Stanlow Refinery; Net Zero Teesside; H2H Saltend and the Acorn Project in Scotland. These hubs are also the landing points for growing offshore wind power generation. Both types of clean hydrogen are Point 2 of the above-referenced 10 Point Plan.

We expect the UK’s estuarial hubs to remain the optimum location for commercial transport operators – even more so as they transition to buying their own preferred blends of cleaner transport fuels: CNG, LNG, hydrogen and higher concentration biofuels.

How positive an outlook it is that the “green industrial revolution” can be the driving force of new growth, employment and revenue flow in exactly those locations which fuelled the first industrial revolution. Personally, we like the fact that the UK Government has renamed these hubs “Super Places” in their recent papers and publications: time for some pride if you have roots in one of them! It also makes complete sense to have compressed and liquefied gases available to road transport operators close to where natural gas and wind power are landed and gas can be compressed at scale - and where clean hydrogen can be produced.

So how do we cost-effectively convert trucks to cleaner fuels?

Diesel trucks can be converted to hydrogen internal combustion engine (H-ICE) drivetrains without too much stress. As an embryonic market, estimates continue to vary on how clean hydrogen will be priced. What we do know is that the capital outlay to an H-ICE truck can be offset by a fuel efficiency improvement of around 44% and, depending on emerging government policy, significantly lower carbon tax.

Is there a map? No, not yet. However, there are some real options to be mapped out for transport companies and their operating locations, so that road freight businesses can start to make optimal decisions based on their own business needs, legislative requirements and an ever-greening environment.

Watch this space for more PHC thinking on the decarbonisation of road transport.

And, in the meantime, if our technical, operational and strategic transport experts can help your organisation to model, map out and plan its conversion to cleaner transport fuels, get in touch with us here.

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