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Decarbonization of Transport: Status Quo & Way Forward

Freight-transport-related CO2 emissions are expected to double by 2050, as demand is anticipated to triple in this period: the sector therefore plays a vital role in preventing global average temperature from rising further. Today, it sits between two “S-curves”, as conventional engines have been optimized to a maximum and new alternatives still need to be scaled up.

The Path towards Zero Emission: Burn Less, or Burn Clean

To decarbonize any given transport mode, there are two main levers: to burn less or to burn clean. Burning less means using less fuel for the same transport work, while burning clean involves increasing the share of clean, carbon-neutral transport movements in the network.

In Air Freight, better aircraft design along with operational and network efficiency gains helped to improve the carbon efficiency significantly. The same is true for marine shipping, where year-on-year efficiency improvements of 5-10% were common.

The efficiency gains are now slowing down significantly. At the same time, sustainable fuels and new technologies are increasingly available, especially in Road Freight. It is now technically possible to largely decarbonize transport by using sustainable fuels, eMobility and fuel cells. However, these technologies are still only available at a small scale and higher cost.

Burn Less

This is the first S-curve. While it is difficult to improve the efficiency of conventional aircrafts or vessels further, transport chains can still be further decarbonized by a couple of levers. Modal shifts and intermodal solutions are very impactful levers to reduce the carbon footprint of a shipment. Routing optimization, carrier selection and consolidation are also helping to reduce emissions.

  • Consolidation is another good example to reduce CO2 emissions. By sharing container space you are also sharing its carbon footprint… sharing is caring!

Burn Clean

The second S-curve. To abate global warning, the share of clean, carbon-neutral transport movements needs to be increased – and it needs to be increased fast. The heavy-duty transport sector is considered to be “hard-to-abate”, not so much due to a lack of technological solutions, but rather because they carry a higher abatement cost in comparison to the current, higher-carbon technologies. However, there are good news: full decarbonization of transport is possible.

Especially in Road Freight, clean transport solutions are increasingly available. eMobility for light-duty vehicles and shorter distance transport is being established in many countries – including the necessary electric recharging infrastructure.

Sustainable fuel is also becoming increasingly available in more locations. Replacing assets and changing aircraft and vessel fleets to clean technology solutions is more complex and will take more time: this is why sustainable fuels and in particular “drop-in fuels”, which require no or little change in engine technologies, are going to play a key role in the next 10 years. 

  • Biofuels have many strengths – the main one being that they are readily available.

    Biofuels have a downside: feedstock availability is limited, and it is important that only sustainable biofuels that do not cause any change in land usage are burned.

    Commercial-scale production is technically feasible. Due to high production costs, it is currently predominately available in countries where financial incentives are in place.

eFuels are seen to be a promising long-term solution. E-fuels are synthetic fuels that can be produced from water and carbon dioxide (CO2) using electricity. Unlike biofuels, eFuels are not limited by the available feedstock. 

  • One of e-fuels’ strengths is that they can be seamlessly integrated into existing vehicles and infrastructure. In chemical terms, e-fuels have the same properties as liquid and gaseous fossil fuels. But they are produced synthetically

    This process however requires significant amount of energy. E-fuels are sustainable if the power used comes solely from renewable sources and the CO2 is either removed from the atmosphere or produced from biomass.

    In the next decade, power-to-liquids production facilities and CO2 capturing facilities need to be build and scaled up. 

Let’s Put Our Commitment Into Actions

The roadmap to zero emissions is clear:

  • Short-term, we will focus on burning less and scaling up sustainable fuel usage.
  • After 2030, clean technologies and eFuels will become increasingly available and will pave the way to a zero emission logistics.

Today, we are at the “steep part of the second s-curve”. To turn the fuels of the future into the fuels of today, we need to increase the demand for sustainable fuels so that cost will come done. We also need mechanisms to simplify the use of sustainable fuels like insetting and “book & claim” solutions . Most importantly, we need to team up and collaborate across the industry and across sectors. Let’s move from commitment to action.

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