What Are the Best Options for Reducing GHG Emissions of Heavy-Weight Vehicles in the EU?

(Photo: Heavy-duty commercial truck transports goods. Credit: Canva Pro Stock.)

by | Feb 10, 2023

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(Photo: Heavy-duty commercial truck transports goods. Credit: Canva Pro Stock.)

(Photo: Heavy-duty commercial truck transports goods. Credit: Canva Pro Stock.)

A new study compares the lifetime greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of different heavy-weight vehicles in Europe, by analyzing fuel production and consumption as well as manufacturing emissions. As the EU races to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the transport sector increasingly draws attention as its responsible for almost 30% of EU GHG emissions, according to the ICCT fact sheet. Heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) such as commercial trucks and buses contribute to 26% of these transport emissions.

Overall, EU GHG emissions are decreasing continuously, but a briefing by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that the HDV category is an outlier. Increases in demand for freight transport mean that CO2 emissions are increasing annually since 2014, with the exception of pandemic lows. There has been steady improvement in efficiency for HDVs, but the EEA freight transport demand is outpacing the gains made from efficiency measures. Future policy measures are crucial because the transport sector is under pressure to reduce GHG emissions by 90% to meet the climate neutrality goal.

Intended to provide research and analysis to environmental regulators, this inaugural report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) breaks down HDV categories into precise categories by combustion, electric, and hydrogen design. In the graph below, the steep drop-off from diesel, natural gas, and biofuel combustion engines is obvious, as manufacturing contributes marginally to the overall picture.

(Photo: Table 1. Scope of GHG emissions considered in the vehicle cycle. Credit: The ICCT.)

(Photo: Table 1. Scope of GHG emissions considered in the vehicle cycle. Credit: The ICCT.)

Key findings include:

  • Battery electric HDVs outperform their diesel, hydrogen, and natural gas counterparts in reducing GHG emissions over their lifetime.
  • Fuel cell electric HDVs run on hydrogen produced from fossil fuels reduce GHG emissions by 15% to 33% compared to their diesel counterparts in a lifecycle analysis. (With hydrogen solely produced with renewable electricity, emissions fall by up to 89%.)
  • Natural gas HDVs provide marginal GHG reductions, when compared to diesel.

For the purposes of the study, the research focused on three common HDV categories: a 12-tonne truck, a 40-tonne articulated tractor-trailer, and an urban bus. All predictions for the 2030 scenario focused on existing or planned policy frameworks in the European Union.

The ICCT is an independent nonprofit focused on improving the environmental performance and energy efficiency of road, marine, and air transportation, in order to benefit public health and mitigate climate change. 88% of its funds are sourced from private foundations, in addition to consulting services. The research team consisted of Adrian O’Connell (ICCT Fuels researcher, Nikita Pavlenko, (ICCT Fuels team lead), Georg Bieker (ICCT Europe researcher), and Stephanie Searle (ICCT Director for the Fuels Program and the United States region).

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