Looking to a green freight future

One of the positive outcomes of the Covid-19 lockdown in New Zealand was it initiated a greater understanding by Government of both the necessity and the many inter-connected parts of moving freight.

Road freight transport presents a conundrum for this Government. They don’t like fossil-fuelled trucks on roads, but they need them. We have an economy based on exports and imports and 93% of the total tonnes of freight moved in New Zealand goes by road. This has possibly never been more important to the economy than it is now.

To the uninitiated, trucks don’t fit with the climate change narrative. But the Government can’t tax and regulate trucks off the road until there is some viable alternative to fuelling them and the infrastructure to support that.

The Ministry of Transport (MoT) has put its toe in the water to explore transitioning road freight to alternative green fuels in its recently released 2020 Green Freight Working Paper. The Road Transport Forum engaged with MoT as they gathered information for this project and it was an extremely worthwhile experience. It is always good to plan for the future and we can’t put our head in the sand and pretend we can run on diesel forever.

It’s not just the Government calling for greener solutions across all aspects of our lives. Many road freight transport operators will be finding customers wanting to deep dive into how they are running and measuring sustainable business practices.

We are all aware of the current limitations, but we also need to look at the opportunities. Another thing Covid-19 has taught us is you simply don’t know what’s ahead and global shocks have a way of changing things.

The MoT working paper looks at the three existing options as alternative fuels – electricity, green hydrogen and biofuels – but acknowledges a lot more work needs to be done for any of these to be viable at scale. It also notes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and other options could emerge.

Alternative green fuels are a growing area of interest and investment globally but the passenger vehicle market has developed more than truck manufacturing. So, choices that can be made in New Zealand will be constrained by what is available. There also has to be the appropriate infrastructure to support any alternative fuel options. Freight companies are unlikely to invest in vehicles that cannot be easily recharged/refuelled throughout the country.

The working paper is a signal, if you like, to Government that there is a lot more work to do before finding viable green freight solutions. It takes a first look at the fuels, vehicles and infrastructure challenges and opportunities. We are pleased to see it notes there are sustainability concerns with batteries for electric vehicles, in particular their production and disposal. We feel in the rush to endorse electric vehicles, this has been somewhat overlooked.

Backing one horse will not be the way to go. Transitioning road freight in New Zealand to alternative green fuels has to happen, but it isn’t going to be overnight. That means there is time to thoroughly analyse the options.

The working paper says: “The Government should consider options that provide the freight industry with flexibility to transition to the alternative green fuels that are best suited to their organisations.”

We think that is sound advice.

If the Government really wants to go big on green freight, the opportunity is there to back ourselves as a smart, clean, green country and come up with the solutions ourselves.

We are known for our problem-solving and innovation, so let’s lead the way here if we can.

I recommend reading the MoT’s 2020 Green Freight Working Paper which you can find here.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


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