Navigating Sustainability: What Solutions Are Available for Road Freight Transport & Logistics? - Girteka - Responsible Logistics

Navigating Sustainability: What Solutions Are Available for Road Freight Transport & Logistics?


The logistics industry, particularly road freight transport, plays a critical role in modern economies. However, it is also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution. To address these challenges and comply with the European Union’s (EU) ambitious environmental regulations, various sustainable solutions are being developed and implemented. So far, no single solution has proven to be the ‘silver bullet’ in efforts to decarbonize road freight transport, and there probably will not be. The solution might be to adapt as many different technologies as possible to answer a variety of requirements and needs in European road transportation. So, what are the most promising sustainable solutions that could readily help transform the trucking sector?


Opting for Alternative Fuels


Alternative fuels provide an immediate solution to reduce transport operators’ reliance on fossil fuels and minimize their carbon footprint. Key alternative fuels include Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids (HEFA), Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME), and Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO).


Biofuels or biodiesels such as HVO and HEFA are increasingly used as alternatives to traditional diesel in the trucking industry. HEFA has a high energy density and can be used in existing diesel engines with minimal modifications. Meanwhile, HVO can be used as a drop-in solution with no modifications to the engine needed.


HVO stand outs as a high-quality diesel substitute and can be used in various blends, ranging from 10% to 100% (HVO100), which is the purest version of the alternative fuel. If the purest version of the fuel is used, GHG emissions can be reduced by up to 90% over the fuel’s life cycle compared to fossil diesel.


“HVO Renewable diesel is a high-quality fossil-free and FAME-free renewable fuel that results in 90% lower CO2 emissions than regular diesel,” states the second-largest fuel distributor in the UK, Watson Fuels. Girteka has incorporated HVO100 fuel into its operations as part of its efforts to help decarbonize road freight transport and reduce emissions from the company’s operations.


FAME is a renewable and biodegradable biodiesel with physical properties similar to those of conventional diesel fuel. However, it has lower energy content and poses certain engine compatibility issues. FAME has poor oxidation stability and readily absorbs water throughout the fuel, leading to potential damage to the engine and its components.


But above all, the key issue with all the listed biofuels is that they are produced from organic material or biomass, meaning that they compete with food and feed production, impacting land usage across Europe.


When it comes to natural gas, there are multiple options offering varied benefits. The main benefit of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), aside of lower carbon emissions compared to diesel fuel, is their abundant supply. Nevertheless, the utilization of LNG requires specialized storage, resulting in higher vehicle costs. The process of creating LNG is also more expensive, making CNG a more cost-effective option.


On the other hand, LNG takes up less storage space on a vehicle than CNG, and it also offers an energy density that can be compared to diesel. LNG allows trucks to travel longer distances without frequent refuelling, making it a common choice among many long-haul trucking companies.


Despite the reduced carbon emissions, methane leakage during extraction and distribution of natural gas poses environmental challenges. Infrastructure for natural gas refuelling also poses a challenge. Therefore infrastructure investments are important to secure stable and reliable supply of those kind of fuels across Europe.


Another option is biogas – a gaseous renewable energy source produced from raw materials. Biogas can be compressed in the same way as natural gas to power vehicles. Compressed Biogas (CBG) not only lowers emissions, but also reduces waste. Key challenges lie in production scalability and infrastructure development.


Meanwhile, Liquefied Biogas (LBG) offers significant emissions reductions and can utilize existing LNG infrastructure. The limited availability of LBG remains the key barrier for its utilization.


Hydrogen – the energy source of the future?


Hydrogen is emerging as a transformative solution in the logistics sector, offering significant potential to enhance sustainability. According to Hydrogen Europe, two hydrogen technologies are currently being developed: Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) and hydrogen Internal Combustion Engines (H2 ICE)


FCEVs use hydrogen to produce electricity, emitting only water vapor as a byproduct. High energy density of hydrogen also allows for longer ranges. This makes FCEVs a promising alternative for zero-emission road transport and a highly attractive option for long-haul and heavy-duty freight transport, requiring high efficiency and reliability.


Vehicle manufacturers are said to also be taking an interest in H2 ICE technology. This technology is said to also show potential in long distance trips and reduce GHG emissions in trucking. Progress is also expected in the development of zero-emission alternative fuelled propulsion systems, based on direct use of hydrogen or hydrogen derivatives.


Nevertheless, hydrogen technologies, while much more promising in terms of their capabilities for logistics firms, are still far away from widespread adoption due to high costs. These costs are associated with hydrogen production and fuel cell technology. Despite quick refuelling time, hydrogen refuelling infrastructure across Europe is also extremely limited. In addition, current methods of producing hydrogen are not always sustainable.


The Potential of Electric Trucks


Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) represent the forefront of electric vehicle technology. Electric trucks are emerging as a viable alternative to traditional diesel-powered trucks. They operate using electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries, offering zero tailpipe emissions. Electric trucks are also quieter, reducing noise pollution in urban areas.


HEVs combine an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) with an electric motor and a small battery. The ICE and electric motor can operate independently or together: electric power can be used for low speeds and ICE for higher speeds and longer distances, thus enhancing vehicle efficiency and performance.


When it comes to trucking, BEVs, which operate entirely on electric power, are the most optimal solution for trucking. However, the current BEV technology makes such trucks best suited for short-haul, domestic, and last-mile deliveries due to their limited range. Advancements in battery technology are expected to enhance the range and load capacity of BEVs.


When charged with renewable energy, electric trucks reduce direct emissions significantly. However, their cargo weight capacity and range are currently less than those of diesel trucks, which limits their use in long-haul freight. Insufficient charging infrastructure along major transport routes also present significant challenges.


Electric trucks pose higher upfront costs; however, lower fuel costs and reduced maintenance expenses allow for cost savings over time. Girteka has already successfully integrated battery-electric trucks into its operations, aligning with its sustainability goals​.


Multimodal Transportation


Multimodal transportation involves using multiple modes of transport—such as road, rail, and water—to move goods efficiently, optimizing the logistics chain. This approach can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of freight logistics by leveraging the strengths of each transport mode​.


Multimodal transport is generally more environmentally friendly compared to road transport alone. For example, rail transport produces less than one-fifth of the greenhouse gases per ton-kilometre than road transport, as stated by the European Environment Agency. Another benefit is that using multiple modes of transport helps reduce road congestion and road accident risk.


Not surprisingly, the EU aims to shift a significant portion of long-haul freight from road to rail and waterways by 2030, reflecting the growing commitment to sustainable logistics​, as declared in the Sustainable & Smart Mobility Strategy. Girteka has been operating multimodal transportation using both rail and ferries for several years already, building and developing strategic partnerships with rail and port operators.


Notably, multimodal transportation requires seamless coordination and planning between different transport modes and operators. When executed successfully, multimodal transport not only reduces emissions but also enhances the efficiency and reliability of a logistics network​.


Multimodal transport also requires well-developed infrastructure to support efficient transfers between different modes. At present day, intermodal rail transportation faces the issue of insufficient (or outdated) infrastructure across Europe to meet the growing demand for freight transport.


To summarize, sustainable solutions in road freight transport and logistics are essential for reducing the environmental impact of this critical industry. While electric and hydrogen-powered trucks offer long-term potential, alternative fuels and multi-modal transportation provide more immediate benefits.


Addressing infrastructure and cost challenges will be crucial for widespread adoption of all of these technologies. Ultimately, the integration of all or multiple of these sustainable solutions, as exemplified by Girteka, promises a greener and more efficient future for road freight transport and logistics.