by James Gordon – Editor
They draw far less attention than freak weather warnings, but for the majority of the 64 million inhabitants[i] who live on our crowded islands, not paying adequate attention to air pollution alerts could prove much more deadly.
Take England’s capital city for example. Last month, particulate levels in London were higher even than Beijing [ii], and every year in Europe’s second largest city as many as 9,400[iii] deaths are linked to pollution.
But the filthy, foul smelling air is not confined to London alone. Every year, across the UK toxic air accounts for 40,000 lives, costing it over UK£15 billion each year according to the Economist newspaper. [iv]
And to underline the scale and enormity of the problem and the challenges ahead for legislators, in January, DEFRA reported ‘high’ pollution levels in areas of south-west England, Humberside and Yorkshire and Northern Ireland too.[v]
But how much is the transportation industry, and in particular – freight and logistics operators – responsible for the high level of toxicity poisoning the nation’s air?
Let’s take Heavy Goods Vehicles for example. According to provisional figures published by the Department for Transport last week, HGV traffic increased by 2.8 per cent – accounting for 17.1 billion miles.[vi] But what does that mean in terms of pollution that add to the ‘greenhouse effect’?
In an interview with Facts Magazine earlier this month, Steve Carroll, the Head of Transport for Cenex, a government-backed agency, which promotes low carbon and fuel technologies, confirmed that “HGVs contribute nearly 20 per cent of GHG emissions from road transport in the UK today”. [vii]
And according to research carried out by the Department for Transport (DfT), the figure is even higher. In an April 2016 report, the DfT stated that HGVs are responsible for roughly 22 per cent of CO2 emissions, though they only make up five per cent of the UK’s vehicle population. [viii]
Load Matching: an important innovation in combating air pollution
Dr Claire Holman, a chartered scientist and environmentalist, who has been at the forefront of air quality management research for the last 30 years, says that there that “the pollution emitted by diesel vehicles contributes to an estimated 40,000 deaths each year”. She continues “but, there is some evidence that new HGVs emit less of the pollutants responsible, particularly nitrogen oxides (NOx) than modern diesel cars”.
Says Dr Holman, “Legislators need to ensure that adequate testing of vehicles is conducted, before they are allowed to be sold, to reduce emissions when they are driven on our roads. This is important to reduce concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the air; reducing concentrations of particulate matter is more tricky, as there are more sources of this pollutants, which are often hundreds of miles away.”
So how does Holman, who is also the Chair of the Institute of Air Quality Management (IAQM), think that the freight industry can make a difference?
“In one word – collaboration,” she says, “Any real-time freight platform that can reduce vehicle kilometres by load-matching, like the one operated by the Transport Exchange Group, can make a difference in reducing toxic emissions. Moreover, what is particularly impressive about these innovations is that they are win-win solutions with the carriers boosting revenue, but, at the same time, reducing harmful emissions.”
How The Transport Exchange is reducing CO2 emissions
So by how many tonnes of CO2 emissions were saved last year by the 4,500 members who belong to Transport Exchange Group?
With access to a virtual fleet of over 40,000 vehicles, according to Simon Bunegar, the Transport Exchange’s Head of Business Development, “members achieved ROI of between £12,000 and £50,000 (depending on the size of their fleet) and in doing so, the net reduction of CO2 was 9,000 tonnes, while NOx emissions (for the 12 months to 01.08.16) fell by 102,150 kg”.
Proof that empty loads don’t pay
And, Dr Holman, who, in November was called as an expert witness by ClientEarth when it successfully challenged the government’s National Air Quality Plan, outlines why reducing empty legs is a particularly effective measure when minimising NOx emissions.
Dr Holman explains, “There is some evidence to suggest – and it defies common sense – that empty vehicles actually release more nitrogen oxide emissions into the atmosphere than trucks carrying a full load. It may well be because the vehicle emission control system, which is fitted to the exhaust pipe, is only fully functional when the exhaust reaches a certain temperature – say 250 degrees centigrade – and this may not occur in an empty leg vehicle. So reducing dead mileage can go some way to improving poor air quality and is a solution that the global freight industry and the EU should embrace.”
Freight Exchanges: A game-changer for improving air quality in the EU
Certainly in mainland Europe such schemes would be welcome as the statistics make for even grimmer reading. Take a recent study by the Bellona Foundation, an NGO which aims to fight climate change, for example. Astonishingly, the report highlights that in the EU, while only 5 per cent of road vehicles are trucks, they are responsible for emitting a whopping 25 per cent of total CO2 emissions.
While many environmentalists, including Bellona, believe that the long-term solution is electrification, the EU strategy for decarbonising the freight industry “is largely inadequate and may take several years to realise”,
“Though electrification is the long-term solution, the EU strategy for decarbonising the freight industry “is largely inadequate and may take several years to realise,” says Teodora Serafimova, a Bellona policy adviser specialising in the electrification of road transport.
Serafimova says, “The Vehicle Energy Consumption Calculation Tool (VECTO), a bespoke computer simulation system designed by the European Community to measure and verify CO2 emissions from new trucks has a number of major limitations. It only covers certain types of vehicle categories and excludes trailers or alternative powertrains.”
Continues Serafimova, “The tool is symptomatic of the Commission’s short-sighted vision, which has failed to anticipate future markets and technological development where zero emission vehicles will one day hold sway.”
Serafimova, who joined Bellona Europa three years ago following a short stint at the UNFCCC Secretariat, believes that “while the EU is lagging behind the USA, Canada, China and Japan who have all already enforced legislation to curb road freight emissions, there are a myriad of positive EU initiatives to build upon. The EU has championed several schemes aimed at promoting electrified freight, such as the Freight Electric Vehicles in Urban Europe project (FREVUE). FREVUE runs programmes in eight cities across Europe and this innovative platform is open to a wide spectrum of vehicle types – ranging from 3.5 tonne trucks to 19 tonne vehicles.
However, despite pioneering initiatives to improve air quality, Serafimova says there is much work to be done, “The EU still has no fuel economy standards for its heavy duty vehicles. The Commission’s proposal for EU-wide economy standards will only come in 2018 meaning that their full implementation will take a long time to realise. This lack of strategy has translated into limited innovation and the freight sector’s ever worsening carbon footprint over the past two decades.”
And so if the freight industry cannot rely on the regulators to come up with effective policy and technology to match, and, if the advent of fully electric HGVs is some way off, then what does Serafimova think is the short-term solution?
Serafimova begins, “The optimal response to decarbonising freight will be pragmatic. Therefore, it really boils down to making the best use of technologies and solution available today. Industry collaboration is also key. In fact, there appears to be solid evidence suggesting the significant economic benefits of industry collaboration.
“Fuel consumption savings of up to 20 per cent can be easily achieve by applying design improvements, including improved trailers and tractors, aerodynamic drag reduction and low resistance tyres,” continues Serafimova, who studied Environmental Policy at the London School of Economics.
But, many carriers have already made these efficiencies, plus made expensive adjustments to the engines of their fleet in order to conform to stringent Euro 6 standards. So what then?
Serafimova answers, “Innovative online freight exchanges which help to eradicate dead mileage and reduce empty legs can make a huge difference to carrier fleets. Although, I cannot provide you accurate figures citing their exact cost-saving potential, for some of the larger UK networks, the fact that several thousand operators now have tools which can pinpoint empty vehicle and availability, in real-time is a game-changer for the industry.”
Exchange platforms: where industry collaboration and green credentials meet
Rachael Dillon, the Climate Change Policy Manager for the Freight Transport Association, one of the UK’s largest transportation associations, also sees the benefits of transport exchange platforms.
Speaking from her offices in Tunbridge Wells, Dillon, who has been tasked with managing and delivering the Logistics Carbon Reduction Scheme, a voluntary initiative to record, report and reduce carbon emissions from freight, says,
“While the Freight Transport Association believes that there is no single approach to reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality, we see collaboration as a potential opportunity to share loads and eradicate empty loads which help to decarbonise the sector.
But, according to Dillon, it is not just the FTA and its members that are showing a keen interest in learning more about these real-time carrier networks.
“The Department for Transport (DfT) has just completed a Freight Carbon Review at present. The central aim of the study, was to investigate how the DfT expects the industry to reduce its emissions up to the year 2030. In its wider review, the DfT singled out collaboration and reducing empty legs as a key measure to decarbonise.”
But if the government is truly sold on courier and freight exchanges why isn’t it incentivising UK carriers to maximise full load running whenever possible?
Says Dillon, “I’m not sure it is really to do with reward or punishment. And the government certainly does not want to introduce draconian measures dictating how the freight industry should organise itself. It is also worth pointing out that there are some instances where load sharing is impossible. For example, a fuel tanker cannot take a load back to base after delivery.”
For Dillon, exchange platforms offer a catalyst for change in the industry because they can provide a bridge for members to form strategic partnerships.
“The collaboration aspect that they foster, is so deeply embedded in their DNA, that they allow two carriers, who, before the advent of exchange networks were rivals, to instantly become business partners. With margins so tight in the industry, this new of working is can help the industry stay ahead of the curve, while promoting green credentials at the same time.”
Continues Dillon, “Perhaps one day, entrepreneurs will look at the success of real-time freight matching networks and create a bespoke version for ordinary motorists, or a real-time app for companies. I’m sure there’d be some mileage in it,” she laughs.
 Net reduction in Co2 by Transport Exchange Group members, taking into account vehicle type, mileage and load factor.
[i] Office of National Statistics
[ii] The Economist
February 11th, 2017
Article entitled, ‘All choked up
[iii] BBC website
Article entitled, ‘Filthy air prompts very high air pollution alert for London’
[iv] The Economist
February 11th, 2017
Article entitled, ‘All choked up’
[v] BBC website
Article entitled, ‘air pollution very high in England says DEFRA
Article entitled, ‘Rise in vehicles not sustainable on UK roads
[vii] Facts magazine
Article entitled, ‘Cenex celebrates release of UK low carbon truck trial report’
[viii] fT April 2016 report