The UK government’s Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener, released in October 2021, committed to implementing a range of programs in the freight and logistics industry, including low-carbon fuels, HGV trials and rail freight growth.
Specifically, the UK government said that it will “transform last-mile deliveries, with zero-emission HGVs and decarbonized deliveries, made possible through the adoption of new delivery models, and supported by accurate data and digital innovations which drive greater efficiencies”.
It will support a modal shift of freight from road to more sustainable alternatives, such as rail, cargo bikes and inland waterways, though initiatives such as the introduction of last-mile measures in urban areas and the Mode Shift Revenue Support and Waterborne Freight Grant Schemes. To promote the uptake of low-carbon fuels in the freight sector, it will also work with stakeholders to develop a longer-term low-carbon fuel strategy for this deployment of low-carbon fuels across different transportation modes to 2050.
Low carbon fuels
As set out in the UK’s recent Hydrogen Strategy and Transport Decarbonisation Plan, hydrogen is likely to play a significant role in transportation applications, particularly where energy density requirements or refueling times make it the most suitable low-carbon energy source. The hydrogen R&D funding and support is focused on heavier applications, such as rail, maritime, aviation and heavy road freight. This includes low-carbon hydrogen, which is likely to be fundamental to achieving net zero emissions in heavy transportation applications.
Following its 2008 edict that fuels supported under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) need to comply with sustainability criteria such as minimum GHG thresholds, the UK government has recently widened support to more diverse fuels and announced more ambitious targets for the RTFO to 2032, set at 14.6% of total liquid fuel supply. Over this period, this is estimated to achieve additional carbon savings of up to 20.8MtCO2 e. The development fuels sub-target, which incentivizes specific fuels of strategic importance, is set to increase from 0.5% in 2021 to 2.8% by 2032, and by 2023 the government will review whether there is scope to be more ambitious.
Overall, the government will remain technology-neutral since there will be other transportation applications where hydrogen may be well suited, including the potential for hydrogen to be utilized within combustion engines, where it can be shown to produce zero harmful emissions at the tailpipe.
To accelerate the development of UK plants to produce advanced fuels, the government has provided grant funding through schemes including the Future Fuels for Flight and Freight Competition (F4C) and Advanced Biofuels Demonstration Competition (ABDC). Within its ‘Ten Point Plan’, it also recently announced the shortlist for the £15m (US$21m) Green Fuels, Green Skies Competition (GFGS) supporting eight companies pioneering SAF technologies.
A series of projects for zero emission road freight trials and hydrogen transportation pilots have been announced recently. Building on its latest £20m (US$27m) zero-emission road freight trials, the UK government will trial three zero-emission HGV technologies at scale on its roads to determine their operational benefits as well as their infrastructure needs. It has also recently consulted on phase-out dates for the sale of all new non-zero-emission HGVs – 2035 for vehicles of 26 metric tons and under, and 2040 for those over 26 metric tons.
In Scottish government will work with the freight industry to remove the need for new petrol and diesel heavy vehicles by 2035, supported by its work with Scottish Enterprise to establish a Zero-Emission Heavy Duty Vehicle program to remove the majority of fossil fuel buses in public transportation by 2023.
Alongside these measures, the UK government is also introducing a rail freight growth target. According to the Net Zero Strategy, the UK’s “rail network will be net zero emissions by 2050 through a sustained, long-term program of investment in rail electrification, supported by the deployment of battery and hydrogen-powered trains”.
Through this strategy, the government hopes to remove all diesel-only trains (passenger and freight) from the network by 2040 through deploying new low-carbon technologies on the network such as hydrogen and battery trains, and incentivizing the early uptake of low-carbon traction by the rail freight industry.
The government plans to build extra capacity on its rail network to meet growing passenger and freight demand and support shifts from road and air to rail. This includes new high-speed lines, reopening lines closed under the Beeching cuts and significant improvements to regional city public transportation networks, with the aim of making them as good as its capital city, London.
Overall, the strategy committed that Great British Railways, the state-owned public body due to oversee the UK’s rail transportation from 2023, “will encourage more rail freight by providing the right conditions for industry growth, with better coordination, modern contracts, and new safeguards”.