With Coronavirus, it may seem that sustainable transport took a back seat to the more immediate consequences of the health crisis. In reality, however, this is not the case. Ports, shipping companies, freight forwarders, rail operators, and logistic operators all continue to look for solutions to the difficulties caused by the national lockdowns whilst tackling emissions and greenifying transport solutions.
This month we have caught up with one of our own professors – José Francisco Vidal. With the Escola since its founding, José Francisco was the head of the Shortsea Promotion Centre Spain before retiring and continuing to contribute to the field through consulting services. Below you can read his thoughts on the current situation of transport through an environmental lens.
Written by: José Francisco Vidal
Logistics and transport have proven to be essential services during the current pandemic. By proving their resilience to the supply of basic goods for members society that have been moved to their homes, and characterised by their effectiveness, transport and logistics operators have demonstrated their efficiency and reliability.
But transport must not only be efficient and reliable, it must be sustainable and, to do so, it must take its efforts a step further to care for the environment.
According to EU data, transport in Europe is the second emitter of greenhouse gases, with 24.6% of the total emissions recorded. It is also the second CO2 emitter, with nearly a thrid (29.7%) of the total emissions in the region.
The EU targets for this year, prior to Covid-19, were 20/20/20 – 20% greenhouse gas reduction, 20% increase in renewable energy use (in the case of transport by 10%) and 20% improvement in energy efficiency.
While overall emission reduction targets appear to have been met, individuals in the transport sector are further behind. The situation is even grimmer when looking at air transport.
The targets for the next decade are even more ambitious, reducing greenhouse emissions by 40%, increasing the share of renewable energy by 32%, and improving energy efficiency by 32.5%.
The contribution to these objectives of all segments of transport must undoubtedly be accelerated, not only in order to comply with the EU rules in force, but also for their own competitiveness.
In terms of energy efficiency, new, more aerodynamic and hydrodynamic designs can be expected. These will vary across the means and modes. We can expect to see more efficient engines and more efficient maintenance systems. Using new technologies, especially intelligent transport systems (ITSs), transport operators will be able to improve the energy efficiency of their infrastructures and their vehicles.
In the field of maritime transport, energy efficiency goes through more hydrodynamic hulls, more efficient propellers, fairings and more effective paints.
In terms of reducing emissions, strategies in land transport focus on the use of alternative fuels and the use of hybrid and electric motors. While in urban transport the use of LNG is spreading successfully, in the transport of goods it still faces resistance, caused in part by the lack of adequate supply infrastructures. Instead, urban transport has successfully began using mixtures of synthetic products or new catalysts. Current research also has progressed in the field of the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel, both liquefied and gas-shaped, although sadly its price and high volatility do not appear to place it on the nearby horizon. Closer is the use of biofuels.
The use of hybrid and electric motors has seen advances only in the field of private vehicles. What public policies around freight transport have tried to do instead is to attempt to reduce road transport routes using intermodal systems, which lower environmental impact in combinations of road-rail, road-sea and rail-maritime.
We must not forget to mention here the maintenance of road infrastructures, which plays an important role in energy consumption and therefore contributes to higher or lower emissions.
As far as emission reduction is concerned, the main bet in ports is on the electrification of the docks to supply the energy needed to the ships’ when moored in ports. In navigation the maintenance of fossil fuels requires the use of lighter ones, such as Diesel oil, and for heavier fuels the use of low Sulphur, including the use of filters for exhausting gases, i.e. either fresh water or seawater scrubbers. Hybrid motorizations are also being used.
The use of alternative fuels is already advancing at a safe pace. Re-motorizations such as those undertaken in Spain by Balearia for the use of LNG seem to work well. Other fuels under study and testing are Ethanol, Propane and Biodiesel. Looking ahead, the sights are set on the use of hydrogen, although there are still many doubts to dissolve and a long way to go to make it less dangerous and more competitive.
I finish with the use of new technologies to improve transport performance. Operators have already began using route optimization, improved operating and maintenance systems, etc. and began, using Big Data, Blockchain and IoT to address operability, transparency and sustainability issues. The road ahead for 2020s is tough, but with concentrated efforts from transport professionals, researchers and policy makers, it will be possible to slow climate change. We must all act now! Let us embark on this difficult task together.