5 measures to make freight traffic and shipping more sustainable

In order to achieve the European climate goals, the transport sector must become more sustainable even faster than previously thought. But how does one do that? Richard Smokers, Consultant for Sustainable Mobility and Logistics at TNO, shares five clear initiatives.

In the Paris Climate Agreement, the countries have signed a binding agreement to limit climate change to a maximum warming of 2 ° C. But to keep the impact on our soil within safe margins, they have also agreed to aim for 1.5 ° C in their policies. Richard Smokers: “Half a degree does not work much, but for the transport sector it makes a huge difference. Mobility and logistics must reduce their CO2emissions by more than 90% by 2050 instead of the 60% originally set by the European Commission.

“Mobility and logistics must reduce their CO2emissions by more than 90% by 2050 instead of the 60% originally set by the European Commission. “

This is no longer possible by simply electrifying all passenger and delivery vehicles; freight transport must also aim at zero emissions. And that in less than 30 years. From a 1.5 ° C perspective, moreover, it is not only the reduction in 2050 that is leading. As stated in the European “Fit-for-55” program, more reductions are also needed by 2030. This requires an acceleration of the pace at which the sector is made more sustainable. It’s going to be really exciting. All the more so because electrification is unsuitable for shipping in particular and other heavy long-distance transport. ” So how do we do that?

1. Bet on more options; we will need them all

“There is no magic bullet or ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to such a complex task,” says Smokers. “We need a wide range of solutions, depending on the application: for light or heavy transport, over short or long distances. The point is that by 2050, all means of transport are as economical as possible and that they are driving, sailing or flying on sustainable energy. When making that choice, it is also important how energy efficient that solution is across the entire chain from ‘well to wheel’.

For example, if you compare driving on sustainably produced electricity, hydrogen and synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels, it all starts with a wind turbine or a solar panel. However, how many vehicles you can drive on a wind turbine’s energy efficiency depends on the energy losses that occur during the production and distribution of the energy carrier, on the efficiency of the propulsion system and on the energy the vehicle needs for propulsion. The losses are least when renewable electricity is used directly via a battery or via an overhead line. The route via hydrogen is already a lot less efficient. And for the production of e-fuels, even more conversion steps are needed. ”

“Heavy and long-distance transport requires high-energy fuels, such as biofuels and e-fuels.”

Just as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, there are no “hassle-free solutions,” Smokers notes. “All possibilities still have challenges. Heavy and long-distance transport, such as in aviation and shipping, require high-energy fuels, such as biofuels and e-fuels. But for biofuels you need biomass and therefore a lot of soil. You can also make renewable fuels. , such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), from residual currents.For example, HVO is an alternative to diesel, made from used oil and fats.

But the amount of residual flows in the world is obviously limited. E-fuels also have a limitation. They are made of CO2, water and green electricity. at CO2 can still be extracted from flue gases from, for example, power plants. But in a sustainable world, it must be extracted from the air using ‘direct air capture’, a technology that is far from ready for the market. In places where there is a lot of sustainable energy and enough space for solar panels and CO2capture facilities, such as deserts, often lack fresh water. These are all technically solvable challenges, but they still cost a lot of time, attention and investment. ”

It is clear that a multi-track policy is needed. Some options may already be scaled up in the short term to contribute to the tightened 2030 target. But long-term opportunities must also be put into practice in time to trigger investment and achieve economies of scale.

2. Accelerate the use of hydrogen for road transport using the internal combustion engine

“Small trucks for urban distribution and regional transport are perfectly fine to electrify. And even heavier trucks as battery technology evolves. But for really heavy transport over longer distances, you end up with hydrogen, biofuel or e-fuel for the time being. ”

According to Smoker, hydrogen has two interesting applications for the transport sector: as an energy carrier in combination with a fuel cell and an electric drive or as direct fuel in an internal combustion engine. “At TNO, we work on both: the use of fuel cells and the development of the hydrogen combustion engine together with DAF and other industry partners.”

“At TNO, we are working on the use of fuel cells and the development of the hydrogen combustion engine.”

This solution is not only interesting for trucks, but also for ships and heavy equipment. “Hydrogen has a slightly higher efficiency in a fuel cell. But in a heavy transport application, for example with a truck running constantly at 90 km / h, a diesel engine is not inferior to this. The big advantage is that you use existing technology, and you can also use less pure hydrogen. All in all, this technology can therefore pave the way for the fuel cell and help upscale the use of hydrogen. ”

3. Cleaner transport succeeds only if the consumer is willing to pay

Solutions are therefore becoming available, but does road transport itself do enough to make it more sustainable? “In recent years, companies have been seen taking real steps. But what is emerging in the logistics sector is a ‘first mover’ dilemma: Sustainability pioneers bear the high costs because new technology is always expensive in the beginning. Well, there are shippers who are willing to pay for cleaner transportation, but overall the margins are thin. Ultimately, therefore, consumers must be willing to pay so that the sector can transport more sustainably. That is why we at TNO help our partners not only with technology, but also with ways to reduce CO2– measure, provide insight into and improve the footprint of transport. “

4. Aviation and shipping must become drastically more sustainable

Worldwide shipping emits about 1,000 megatons of CO each year2 which accounts for only a 3% share of total global emissions. But this sector is growing linearly with our economy. Global aviation will also continue to grow strongly in the coming decades if the policy remains unchanged. “If we do not intervene, aviation and shipping together by 2050 will emit what we will all still emit globally by that time.2 allowed to broadcast. “

“If we do not intervene, aviation and shipping together by 2050 will emit what we will all still emit globally by that time.2 allowed to broadcast. “

Unlike road transport, no fixed agreements have been made in Paris for international aviation and shipping because they do not fall under a single national government. Overall, strict agreements are made between these sectors. For shipping, for example, it is the IMO within the UN.

Methanol appears to be a promising candidate for the sheer power of ships. “You can make this fuel from biomass, but also as e-fuel from hydrogen and CO2† Ammonia is another alternative that does not require carbon either. Ammonia is made with nitrogen, which makes up 80% of our air, so it is certainly not scarce. ”

5. Start building sustainable energy import chains now

When it comes to energy conversion, we tend to believe that we will soon be able to fully meet our own needs. “At the moment we are still dependent on imported coal, gas and oil, but in the future we will all generate that energy ourselves, is often the idea. Of course, you also want to be less dependent on long supply chains and questionable regimes. But the reality will be that we will continue to depend on imports to have enough hydrogen, biofuels or e-fuels.

“The reality will be that we will continue to be dependent on imports to have enough hydrogen, biofuels or e-fuels.”

To give you an idea: For bunkering ships and planes alone, we currently need about twice as much fuel in the Netherlands as for our domestic consumption. If you want to replace all that with e-fuels, made from sustainable wind energy, then you need twice as much of the North Sea for wind farms, without leaving anything for the rest of the Netherlands.

We do not have to solve that whole problem without becoming dependent on a number of import chains again. Apart from the question of whether in the future we will supply the same amount of bunker fuel in the Netherlands as we do now, it will be necessary to import hydrogen and / or e-fuels from countries where, for example, solar panels provide cheaper electricity and there is enough space for installations that use CO2.2 to forbid. You have to set up those import chains now so that they do not stall later. “

Contact us

Would you like to know how TNO can help you make freight and shipping more sustainable? Please contact Richard Smokers.

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