Different fuel options and technologies are being developed to lower harmful emissions in the freight transport sector.

The role of logistics in the supply chain

The rise of international trade has increased the negative effects of climate change, making supply chain logistics a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Now more than ever, it is clear that emissions in the logistics sector need to be assessed and reduced. 

The Public Procurement Notice (PPN) 06/21 is directed at all suppliers bidding for public sector contracts over £5 million. Since September 2021, providers have been required to demonstrate their commitment to the carbon net zero pledge with a carbon reduction plan. This includes logistics service providers who are bidding in the open market. 

What are the alternative fuels?

One method to reduce logistical carbon emissions is by exploring the use of alternative fuels to diesel. Benefits include reduced pollution, but also allow for new investment in UK produced alternative fuels.

Biofuels

One of the more readily available fossil fuel alternatives on the market is biofuel. Biofuel is produced from a variety of organic matter and comes in different forms, depending on how it is produced and its biological source. Common forms include bio-diesel, a sustainable alternative to regular diesel; ethanol, a bio-alcohol alternative to petrol; and biogas (methane produced from decomposition of organic matter). A common form of biodiesel production in the UK is the repurposing of vegetable fats. 

Now, large logistics providers are using biofuels, and more carriers are experimenting with further use of biofuels and gas as an alternative to fossil fuels. Biofuels are seen as an immediately available and carbon-reducing intermediary that logistics providers can use to bridge the gap between fossil fuels and future zero-carbon fuels such as green electricity or hydrogen. 

Natural Gas (methane)

Methane is a naturally-occuring gas and can be harvested from underground fossil fuel reservoirs, or produced from organic matter. Whilst methane is a greenhouse gas in itself, it burns cleaner than other longer-chain petrochemicals and is less polluting. 

Natural gas is used in its liquified or compressed form as a vehicle fuel and gas-powered heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) are available on the market.

Going greener

The power of electric 

Even though biofuels are renewable and less polluting options to their fossil counterparts, they still require the combustion of hydrocarbons and so they still carry a negative environmental impact by producing carbon dioxide. 

Greener fuel options include electric and hydrogen fuel cells. The automotive industry has been developing electric vehicles (EVs) for the domestic market for some time and there are estimated to be over 740,000 EVs licensed in the UK. Electrifying road freight is more problematic due to longer distances travelled and carrying heavy loads at high speed but despite the challenges, electric HGV (eHGV) options are available on the market. 

Other experiments in electric freight movement are underway across Europe. The Department for Transport (DfT) announced last year the UK government would be funding a scheme to install an electric road system on a stretch of the M180 near Scunthorpe. The scheme would see the construction of powered catenary lines running above the road, similar to above a train track, from which electric HGVs would draw power using an extendable pantograph arm located on the roof. Similar systems are also being trialled in Sweden and Germany. 

Hydrogen

The greenest fuel currently available may be hydrogen. Combustion of hydrogen has only one byproduct, which is water, and advocates view hydrogen fuel cells as the ideal fuel source of the future but hydrogen fuel has its complications. The extraction of hydrogen currently requires high volumes of green energy to power the process, often by electrolysis from methane. Further energy is required to compress and cool the gas to the point where it can be safely stored for transport. As a result of these complications, it is unlikely that widespread use of hydrogen will happen in the short term.

How can we help? 

In 2020, we launched our first ever Logistics and Warehousing framework. There are 25 suppliers registered to the agreement and all, like many in the industry, are seeking to implement their own changes to support the net zero pledge. Speak to our suppliers to see how their use of alternative fuels can support your supply chain carbon reductions. 

Additionally, if you are considering switching to EVs, telematics data can help you in the transition to an electric fleet and inform what type of vehicle will fit your commercial requirements. The Vehicle Telematics: Hardware and Software Solutions framework can help inform business decision making and ensure that the steps you take towards greening your fleet are aligned with your organisation’s fleet policy.

Let us bring power to your procurement

To find out more about how we can help you decarbonise your logistics, get in touch: