Improving the efficiency of road transport is critical to reducing the growth in oil demand, carbon emissions and air pollution over the next decades, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Titled The Future of Trucks: Implications for Energy and the Environment, the 167-page report found that trucks are a “major contributor” to the growth in transport-fuel consumption, as well as rising carbon dioxide and air pollutant emissions.
“Today, trucks account for almost a fifth of global oil demand, or around 17 million barrels per day, equivalent to the combined oil production of the United States and Canada,” the report found.
“It also accounts for about half of global diesel use, a third of all transport-related carbon emissions and a fifth of NOx emissions, a key air pollutant.”
The main drivers of oil demand from trucks at the moment have been identified as the United States, the European Union and China, while India is emerging as a growing contributor, too.
“Economic growth, particularly in Asia, will continue to boost oil demand from trucking in the future,” the report found.
While the IEA did acknowledge that trucks are a “key enabler of global economic activity” and play an essential role in delivering goods or commodities across every point of the economic value chain, it also said that if no action is taken, oil demand from road freight is projected to grow by five million barrels per day by 2050, or around 40 per cent of the projected increase in global oil demand in that period.
“This growth is expected to lead to a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions of nearly 900 million tonnes through 2050, or about the same level of emissions growth as from coal use in the power and the entire industry sector combined.”
In an effort to address that rise in demand and emissions, the IEA described a three-step “policy pathway” for truck transport that could reduce energy use in road freight by 50 per cent and emissions by 75 per cent by 2050.
“First, the trucking sector can improve logistics and systems operations in order to be more efficient. This includes near-term opportunities like using Global Positioning System (GPS, ed.) to optimise truck routing, as well as real-time feedback devices that monitor the on-road fuel economy of trucks,” the IEA said in a media statement.
“Greater improvements on that front will require increased cooperation, as well as the exchange of data, information and assets across the entire supply chain. This can help increase the volume or weight of cargo hauled to improve the load on each trip, but also reduce the number of trips during which trucks are running empty, such as travel taken without any load at all after having delivered the goods.”
Secondly, the IEA report found that energy-efficiency improvements for the existing fleet should include aerodynamic retrofits to reduce drag as well as low-rolling resistance tyres.
“New trucks can use additional technologies that cut idling, use lightweight materials and take advantage of improvements to truck engines, transmissions and drivetrains,” the IEA said. “Achieving stronger cuts in fuel use, carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions requires the use of hybrids and zero emission trucks.”
Finally, using alternative fuels such as natural gas, biofuels, electricity and hydrogen was suggested as a means to diversify fuel supply away from oil and also help reduce carbon emissions, especially if produced from low-carbon pathways.
“While some of the improvements necessary may be expensive or complex, many can be easily accomplished in the near-term by strong policy support,” according to the report.
“Some of these opportunities include tightening fuel-economy standards, making better use of data and providing support for research and development into alternative fuels.”