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Decarbonising the UK freight industry – The fossil fuel phase-out

Posted 21.02.2020
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Like the energy and automotive sector, UK freight transport is now on the cusp of an evolution away from its reliance on fossil fuel. Making this transition happen, in line with some of the most recent regulations such as the IMO initial strategyon the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships, will require major investment in fleets and infrastructure, as well as the knowledge and insight to ensure the pathway is as seamless and future-proofed as possible.

This week, Decarbonising UK Freight Transport (DUKFT) hosted expert-led discussions on enabling greater investment in freight transport decarbonisation ahead of releasing their latest report in March. DUKTF is a network of forty academic and industry partners which is exploring the questions that need to be answered to enable the decarbonisation of energy/propulsion across road, rail, sea and air freight.

The panellists shared knowledge and identified the research challenges to attracting significant investment in freight decarbonisation. The event consisted of three panels, looking at:

The event identified several key elements deemed critical if UK freight is to transition from fossil fuels:

Pathway dependency: A majority of the panellists expressed concern around the risks in making technological decisions that could limit a future change of direction. The approach of France and Japan was highlighted, showing leading countries bringing together industry with government to form a forward-thinking ‘blue growth’ policy.

Sharing knowledge: Learning from other industries is not new, but is essential for decarbonisation. For example, in aviation, engines are leased to ensure the latest technology is being deployed, without impacting capital expenditure.

A data-driven approach: It is essential to utilise data to inform the early adoption of specific technology and to understand whether bridging technologies, such as LNG, will help or hinder in the long term. Whilst the scaling up of fossil phase-out is most likely to occur from 2030 onwards, the biggest impact needs to happen in the next ten years.

Clear timeframes: Environmental and social pressures are highlighting the need for swift technological developments but a timeframe needs to be clear to ensure the industry meets its targets. Focusing on increasing energy efficiency from route planning, as well as research into alternative fuels, battery development and the future role of the internal combustion engine will fast-forward the progress being made.

Educated investors: Given the decisions that investors are making today will have a significant effect on the future of decarbonisation, they need a deeper understanding of the technologies. This will ensure informed decisions regarding investment in cleantech as the next ten years of investments will be critical to enabling the transition to decarbonisation.

DUKFT will be releasing a research paper on the data, investment decisions, fuel pathways and the drivers for decarbonisation at the end of March. It will examine how to manage the disruption to assets and the significant reconfiguration of the logistics sector, including shipping.

To find out more about the detail of the research that has been undertaken, you can read more on this project here.

by Kerry Marshall

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