Four roads to sustainable freight transportation

Movin'On, the World Summit on Sustainable Mobility that took place in Montreal between May 30 and June 1, hosted a working session on sustainable road freight transportation that was a chance for Total to bring together stakeholders, experts, partners and other interested attendees.

The topic of discussion was the best solutions that could be deployed in the near future. Freight trucking is a buoyant market in which corporate social responsibility issues remain a top priority.

"At your door, as soon as you order:" it could almost be the slogan — the promise even — of B2C (business-to-consumer) e-commerce, which is growing by leaps and bounds each year.

The sector posted global revenues of $1.915 billion in 2016, a jump of 24 percent from 2015, and comprised 8.7 percent of all retail sales worldwide that year, up from 7.4 percent a year earlier. eMarketer has estimated that global online sales will reach $2.860 billion in 2018 and $4.058 billion in 2020.

Growth this rapid has a direct impact on the logistics service providers that ship freight across national borders. They are under pressure to deliver packages ever faster, more reliably and more cost competitively. But that's not the end of the story. U.S. market research vendor Research and Markets has predicted that the global logistics market for e-commerce will see its annual growth soar by 19.5 percent between 2017 and 2025.

And, of course, the volume of international e-commerce freight has direct environmental impacts, in terms of both pollutants and carbon emissions. Globally, the transportation industry taken as a whole generates 23 percent1 of all carbon emissions. Road shipment of freight accounts for 35 percent2 of transportation-related emissions, with the remainder split among ocean shipping (more than 80 percent of global freight3 ), air, inland waterway, rail and passenger car miles.

At the Movin'On summit, Total worked with stakeholders on innovative solutions for more sustainable road transportation.

Improvements expected by 2030

Logistics companies, too, are bound by the Paris climate change agreement, and have an obligation to help devise solutions to limit increases in their carbon emissions.

At the Movin'On event, Total presented and led the New Technologies and Energy Combinations for Sustainable Road Freight Transport working session on the subject. The aim was to survey the solutions offered by current technologies and come up with new ones, to make good on Movin'On 2018's goal of "from ambition to action."

There are currently four main solutions to curtail the externalities associated with freight transportation:

  • • Vehicle efficiency, designed to cut down on the energy required to move vehicles.
  • • Powertrain efficiency, to maximize energy use from tank to wheels.
  • • The use of more efficient fuels, biofuels or alternatives such as natural gas and electricity.
  • • Optimizing logistics, including measures that involve truck loading rates, route choice and even driving habits.

Agnès Dumesges, vice president of product marketing at Total Marketing & Services, led the working session and pointed out that the first two solutions could improve overall vehicle efficiency by 30 percent by 2030.

The vehicle's own efficiency could be increased by 13 percent by working on engine aerodynamics, tyre rolling resistance and the weight of materials. Another 7 percent could be added by means of platooning, which groups trucks into a convoy that reduces resistance to air, and smart tools such as predictive route planning, which optimizes truck trips.

The last 10 percent falls under total powertrain efficiency, including 10 incremental upgrades across the transmission and drivetrain. The main option is the use of hybrid systems.

• For more on the subject: The innovative future of freight

A wide array of energy solutions

On the energy side, fuels such as Total Excellium, part of the Total Ecosolutions line, both extend engine life and trim fuel consumption, reducing carbon and other pollutant emissions. As for biofuels produced from biomass, Dumesges reminded the session participants of a basic principle: "We need them if we're going to shrink transportation's carbon footprint."

Natural gas vehicle (NGV) fuel also holds promise in improving road freight transportation. It is sold either compressed to 200 bar (CNG) or liquefied at -160 Celsius (LNG).

NGV fuel has four major advantages. It is already available from all vehicles manufacturers; the pipeline infrastructure exists; subsidies, tax credits or tax reductions make it competitive; and it meets the strictest environmental standards.

In light of these factors, the European Union anticipates that alternative energies will comprise 20 percent of fuel consumption by 2020, with half being NGV fuel. In October 2014, the European Parliament and Council adopted the Directive on the Deployment of Alternative Fuels Infrastructure (AFI), which set minimum requirements for alternative fuel recharging and refueling points, including for NGV fuel. Member states must implement the directive by 2020.

Things are less advanced for electric trucks. Based on today's technologies, the six-to-18-ton models available have only limited ranges of 50-to-200 kilometers, insufficient for long-haul transportation. Philippe China, technology intelligence and powertrain specialist ‎at Total's Solaize Research Center (CReS) in France, pointed out during the working session that "e-trucks able to travel long distances won't hit the market until 2030 at the soonest."

But there are solid arguments in favor of electric trucks for last-mile delivery, mostly in urban areas, something that could be done quietly and without emissions. That will be popular with city residents.

• For more on the subject: Sustainable Mobility, Live

Cost, efficiency and responsibility

So, for now, there's not one, but many solutions, applicable to different freight transportation configurations.

XPO Logistics, the freight company that took part in the Movin'On working session, has 16,000 trucks on the road each day. It formed an Energy Performance Certificate4 partnership with Total to curb its environmental impact. The company has a "fuel" bill equal to 25 percent of its total costs and has tested a range of solutions, from hybrid vehicles to CNG and LNG powertrains.

For now, it's the gas solution that is the most promising and worthy of continued exploration. But senior XPO Logistics executives point out that incorporating digital tech into transportation, which can optimize fleet flows and productivity, will let them ship more freight, on time and as promised, with lower fuel use and therefore reduced carbon and pollutant emissions.

Aspects to be addressed include cost, efficiency, response to market needs and corporate social responsibility issues. It's a complex challenge that will have to be met in the next 20 years. The climate emergency is real. So are the ideas and solutions.

1 Source: French Office of the Commissioner-General for Sustainable Development, Key Figures on Climate: France, Europe and Worldwide, 2018.

2 Source: IEA, The Future of Trucks, 2017.

3 Source: UNCTAD, Review of Maritime Transport 2017.

4 Energy Performance Certificates: A regulatory program requiring energy suppliers to save energy through various initiatives directed at consumers.

This page was paid for by TotalEnergies. The editorial staff of CNBC had no role in the creation of this page.