A recent article over on Inbound Logistics on Going Green to Save Green (which you all know is true after reading SI for years) had a scary statistic: freight trucks are on pace to increase their carbon emissions by 40 percent over the coming decades, according to the Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Outlook. Ouch!
With strict new fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles, which were never the big emission culprit in the first place (they just took the blame for all the pollution caused by ocean shipping, which contributes approximately 3,500* times the pollution produced by all personal automobiles on the planet, and ground transport), this means that trucks are going to become the biggest producer of road sector emissions. The logistics sector constitutes about 6% of the total man-made GHG emissions, with transport as a whole constituting about 12%. This says that the personal automobile, which is 50% to 60% of road sector emissions, depending on the source, accounts for less than 2% of total CO2 and GHG emissions as road transport is only about 25% of logistics emissions (with the rest coming from rail, aviation, and ocean shipping) and that trucking will soon account for more than 2% of total CO2 and GHG emissions.
This does not bode well for the trucking industry which is already hard hit with an impending driver shortage of 240,000, a 100%+ annual turnover, and onerous regulations. With the growing desire of the Millennials (Generation Y) to only work for companies that are socially responsible, this is going to make it even harder to recruit young drivers (which is a must! How long do you think an industry with an average new graduate age of 54 can last without fresh blood?)
So what can it do? While hybrid is an option for smaller trucks, such as UPS and Fedex parcel delivery trucks, it’s not a great option for 18 wheelers (which have to roll on, and will have to continue to do so even after America rediscovers rail). The first thing the trucking industry needs to do is switchover to clean diesel (ULSD) vehicles as fast as possible. Not only is it 97% cleaner than regular diesel, but a well-designed diesel engine can be 40% more efficient than a gasoline engine.
The next thing it needs to do is switch to lightweight pallets and containers. For example, as illustrated in the Inbound Logistics article, a heavy-duty plastic container has only one third the weight of a steel container, and is just as effective. Lower shipment weight translates into a lower fuel requirement which translates into lower emissions.
The third, and most important, thing it needs to do is eliminate empty miles. An empty trailer can weigh as much as 7.5 tons / 15,000 lbs, which is almost 20% of the maximum allowed weight of 40 tons on most US highways. This says that if a truck has to return to its origin point empty, it’s using 120% of the fuel requirement. So how does it do this? First of all, it only works with buyers who recycle containers and pallets so that at least one trip out of every X is full just with reusable containers and pallets. Secondly, it balances its routes by way of the right mix of contract and spot-market deliveries. As hinted at in our recent post on BuyTruckLoad.com which noted that you could expect to pay an average of 15% less on the spot market, an optimization-powered spot-market hub which analyzes a buyer’s need against all of the “empty miles” of all carriers in the area can help a carrier identify the right customers to insure that it’s trucks stay full.
And while trucking may not be able to keep pace with the passenger automobile, if it does these three things, it will be pretty close. Clean diesel has at most half the sulfur content of gasoline (which has to average 30 ppm from any single manufacturer, compared to 15 ppm for clean diesel), diesel engines will be (on average) one third more efficient, lighter weight packaging has the potential to reduce emissions by one sixth, and eliminating empty miles by 80%+ (which spot-market hubs have have the potential to do) will reduce GHGs by another one-sixth. Put this altogether and the GHG emissions from clean diesel engines, which are already twice as clean as gasoline engines, can be effectively reduced by about another five sixths, or 83%. In other words, a 40% GHG reduction is within reach, and close to the mandated 45% reduction from the federal vehicle standards which mandate a fuel economy increase of new passenger vehicles from approximately 30 mpg in 2011 to 54.5 mpg in 2025.
So, if it wants to, Trucking can clean up its act. The question is, will it?
* As per this historical post on SI, 15 of the world’s biggest cargo ships emit more pollution than the roughly 750 Million cars in operation around the globe. The world fleet in 2011 was 104,304 ships. Some are Post-Panamax and emit more pollution than 50 million cars, some are much smaller. Given the average size, the factor of 3,500 is a good approximation.