In the United States, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. That dubious distinction previously belonged to power plants. However, starting in 2017, transportation eclipsed electricity generation in terms of emissions. In fact, transportation is currently estimated to contribute 29% of all U.S. greenhouse gases.i 

For its part, the freight and transportation industry has made a significant push toward sustainability. Ocean freight in particular has leveraged new technology to power more sustainable ocean transportation, including LNG-powered container ships. 

Other prevalent modes of freight transportation—road, rail, and air—are making moves of their own to reduce their environmental footprint. Let’s take a closer look at the technology behind the sustainability efforts in these three arenas. 

Trucking Tackles Its Emissions Conundrum 

65.7%

road freight

freight moves over the road in North America 

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, trucking is by far the most common mode for moving freight around North America. Recent statistics put it as high as 65.7%, with rail trailing significantly at 14.7%. ii As a result, it should come as no surprise that trucking accounts for nearly 20% of the carbon dioxide generated by the transportation sector. iii 

Because over-the-road freight contributes so significantly to emissions, many are looking to the industry to lighten its environmental load. The European Union, for example, has adopted rules to motivate changes. 

Starting in 2025, manufacturers are required to produce trucks that produce 15% fewer emissions than the EU average (as calculated from June 2019–July 2020).  By 2030, that target will be reduced to a 30% reduction. iv  As a result, the industry has turned to technology to deliver solutions, such as: 

Reducing the Impact of Rail Freight 

400%

efficiency

rail efficiency vs over-the-road freight

When compared to trucking, rail offers a significantly more fuel-efficient alternative for moving freight. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has calculated that rail freight in the U.S. is able to move a ton of freight over 480 miles on a single gallon of fuel. This ultimately makes rail freight as much as four times more fuel efficient than over-the-road freight. vii 

However, that doesn’t mean that the rail industry is resting on its laurels. Over the last 30 years, rail fuel efficiency has risen 82%.viii Take a look into a few of the technological advances driving this improvement: 

Air Freight Finds Fuel Alternatives in an Unexpected Place

The aviation industry has also made a significant commitment to sustainability efforts. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines in 120 countries, has adopted three targets to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint:  

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020 
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 
  • A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels xii 

In order to achieve these bold targets, the airline industry will be looking to operational improvements, as well as replacing older aircraft with newer, more fuel-efficient ones.  

The airline industry is also investigating sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Depending on their makeup, SAF can offer as much as an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.xiii  

FedEx has turned to a company called Red Rock Biofuels to fuel its fleet. Red Rock uses waste woody biomass to create low-carbon, renewable jet fuel. Curious what exactly “waste woody biomass” is? Red Rock uses leftover tops and branches created by the timber harvesting process, as well as tree material thinned out during the management of forest areas. They collect this material, heat it enough to turn it into a gas, creating liquid hydrocarbons that are refined to make jet fuel.xiv 

As contracts from both Southwest Airlines and FedEx prove, the industry is heavily investing in the future of this technology to reduce the environmental impact of airplane emissions. 

Making Strides Toward Sustainability 

Sustainability is a global effort, one that will require cooperation across freight modes, across industries—and across the globe. By investing in the green technology behind these improvements, the freight industry has the potential to significantly lessen its impact, while continuing to connect the world with the raw materials, supplies, and finished goods it needs. 

Interested in discussing how green technologies can improve efficiency and lighten your company’s environmental footprint? Reach out to one of our experts for a complimentary consultation. 

 

i https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions; https://e360.yale.edu/digest/transportation-replaces-power-in-u-s-as-top-source-of-co2-emissions

ii https://www.bts.gov/newsroom/april-2018-north-american-freight-numbers

iii https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/emissions_analysis_of_freight.pdf

iv https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/climate-targets-force-trucks-race-clean-transport; https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/transport/vehicles/heavy_en

v https://www.paragonrouting.com/en-us/case-studies/post/hagopian-cleans-over-250000-savings/

vi https://www.pnas.org/content/118/27/e2106406118

vii https://www.aar.org/sustainable-technology/

viii https://www.aar.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/AAR-Climate-Change-Report.pdf

ix https://www.ge.com/research/project/trip-optimizer-railroads; https://www.ge.com/digital/sites/default/files/download_assets/GE-Transportation-Trip-Optimizer-20160824.pdf

x https://www.railway-technology.com/news/bnsf-wabtec-battery-electric-locomotive/

xi https://www.cpr.ca/en/media/cp-announces-hydrogen-powered-locomotive-pilot-project

xii https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/climate-change/

xiii https://www.freightwaves.com/news/5-air-cargo-sustainability-trends-for-2021

xiv https://sustainability.fedex.com/FedEx_2020_Global_Citizenship_Report.pdf; https://www.redrockbio.com/feedstock/; https://www.cdrecycler.com/article/red-rock-biofuels-woody-biomass-waste/

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