A biofuel powered truck owned by haulage company Hymas | Credit: Zemo Partnership
Fresh analysis argues greener fuels are critical to decarbonising a heavy-duty road transport sector that is lagging on electrification
Tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions could be stopped from entering the atmosphere if lorries, coaches, and other heavy-duty vehicles had easy access to high-blend renewable fuels (HBRF), according to new analysis published earlier this week by the Zemo Partnership.
In the report, the government and industry-backed group calculates that 46 million tonnes of emissions could be saved over the coming decade if an average 30 per cent blend of renewable diesel was adopted by the heavy-duty vehicle sector by 2030.
Complete replacement of fossil fuels with renewable transport fuel obligation-approved renewable fuels such as biodiesel, HVO, and biomethane could achieve more than 80 per cent emissions savings, it said.
While manufacturers are investing heavily in the development of electric and fuel cell trucks, heavy duty vehicles are lagging behind passenger vehicles when it comes to zero emission models and some analysts expect fossil fuelled trucks and coaches to remain on the roads for the next 20 to 30 years. As such, Zemo’s report argues that widespread renewable fuel adoption over the coming two decades could play a significant role in curbing emissions, given that trucks and coaches are responsible for roughly five per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
“More wide-scale adoption of HBRFs in heavy duty vehicles fleets could provide a technology-ready solution for helping to achieve the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) target and concurrently deliver sizeable reductions in road transport GHG emissions over the next decade,” the report reads, noting that its modelling had revealed an “immense opportunity” for reducing emissions from the HGV fleet using HBRF over the next two decades.
As such the group has called on the government to introduce an “aggressive policy framework for HBRF” that can speed up the decarbonisation of road transport by reducing the tailpipe emissions of heavy-duty vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines (ICEs). A near-term policy to encourage HBRF could complement and enhance a longer-term electrification strategy, it said.
“We’re now on a trajectory for net zero emissions transport by 2050, but our impact on the climate is what matters and action in this area can accelerate GHG emissions cuts over the next 30 years,” said Zemo Partnership’s head of sustainability Gloria Esposito. “If we can decarbonise the fuels we’ll be using until we can achieve full electrification across the vehicle fleet, we can minimise the impact of emissions from road transport on our way to zero.”
The report notes that the use of HBRF would be most effective in heavier and long-haul vehicles that are most resistant to electrification.
The Department for Transport was considering a comment at the time of going to press, however boosting the supply of greener fuels is a key plank of the the government’s boarder decarbonisation strategy. It is currently aiming to increase the biofuels volume target to 12.4 per cent in 2032 through the RFTO, and Zemo’s call to action comes just one week after Ministers announced that E10 fuel – which contains 10 per cent bioethanol – will be available at pumps at petrol stations later this year.
Among the recommendations in the report is for the government to introduce independent, robust and transparent assurance and certification scheme for blended fuels that would give fleet operators confidence of the credentials of the fuels they purchase. The Zemo Partenship is currently developing such a scheme, and expects it to launch over the coming months.
However, many environmental campaign groups remain hugely wary of biofuels, arguing the sector has consistently struggled to deliver promised emissions savings while having a knock on impact on land use and food security. They have also warned that a reliance on biofuels to curb road transport emissions could distract from the need to electrify the sector and divert sustainable biofuels away from an aviation sector where alternative low carbon technologies are less readily available.