No single solution to reducing GHG output

The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report, titled Pathways to Reducing GHG Emissions from Trucking.

The report reviews the trucking industry’s share of greenhouse gas emissions and provides insights into ways emissions can be reduced from this segment of transportation. In the research document, there were many valuable tips as to how we, as an industry, can reduce our carbon footprint.

The report was an interesting read and can be a valuable tool for government and industry to consider.

First some facts: In 2015, the transportation sector was responsible for 24% of Canada’s total CO2 emissions. From 1990 to 2015, the share of transportation emissions from freight increased from 28% to 44%.

Trucking’s share of this increased from 61% to 82% during this time frame. Looking at these numbers, as an industry we clearly need to look into ways of reducing our footprint – and we have. Trucks today burn cleaner than they ever have, and new fuel efficiency standards have just been released by Transport Canada.

These new standards affect trailers manufactured after Jan. 1, 2020 and start with heavy-duty engines in 2021. They increase in stringency up to 2027. The industry has invested heavily over the years, with increases in truck prices of more than 20% over the past 20 years, directly attributable to new clean technologies.

Our investment is even higher when one considers the unreliability of some of these new technologies, which led to significant downtime. We take our responsibility seriously and will always do what we can to do our part to clean the environment, however the investments we make must be sustainable, reliable, and not drive us out of business with increased costs. There has to be a balancing act.

The increase in emissions from our segment is due to the fact that the use of trucks to move freight has increased substantially over the years, mainly as a result of the flexibility and efficiencies of the truck transportation network. While rail may be the cheapest mode, the first and last mile will almost always need land transportation.

The Conference Board report points out infrastructure investment for other modes of transport and incentives can increase the use of other modes and reduce the reliability on land. Better co-operation and sharing of modes is always something we have been in support of, however government incentives to increase capacity and the reliability and competitiveness of other modes will be needed, as the report indicates.

Increasing fuel efficiency in heavy-duty diesel engines and reducing drag on the truck and trailer while moving is the most effective way to reduce GHG emissions.

This in one area the industry and government have been working together on for years, and great strides have been made, with more on the horizon.

Incentives are important to continue this progression; however, we must always ensure that we do not force regulations onto manufacturers and thus have technologies introduced into the equipment that are not ready for prime time. This can have the reverse effect of what is intended, as the reduced reliability can lead to inefficiencies in transportation, which can in fact lead to increased costs and GHG output.

Transitioning away from diesel engines is also considered a pathway to reduce emissions. While different engine modes are important, and all have a role to play – electric, natural gas, hydrogen, propane, etc. – these technologies are not suitable for all types of operations. As the report indicates, no one solution can be utilized, but rather all types of solutions have their pros and cons.

The report also suggests “automated vehicles and platoons” could reduce fuel consumption by up to 5.9%. While this may be true under test conditions, how these vehicles – especially in the case of platoons – would interact and operate in high traffic situations is still widely untested and unknown. One thing we are highly against is the idea of driverless trucks.

We feel this is not in our near future, and that a driver will always be needed. Their role may change, as an airline pilot’s role has changed over the years, but a driver needs to be in the seat for the foreseeable future. We are in favor of more testing and the wider adoption of active safety controls in vehicles, and mandates that will introduce some of these technologies, once they’ve proven to be effective and reliable.

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Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the only national association that represents the views and interests of the private fleet industry. He can be reached at trucks@pmtc.ca.

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