The freight transportation sector is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, but it also has an opportunity to lead the transition to zero-emission vehicles. The good news is that we can have a completely zero-emission freight sector in 2045. But we need policies and other interventions to make this happen.
Building Growing Demand for Zero-Emission Freight
The freight transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., responsible for more than 30% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This number is expected to increase by 70% by 2050.
The problem is that many companies are still trying to figure out how to reduce their carbon footprint and are not taking advantage of opportunities like zero-emission trucks.
But change is inevitable, and as consumers demand greener alternatives, companies must follow suit if they want to stay competitive.
Creating a Path to Zero-Emission Freight
The freight transportation sector that relies on diesel fuel today can be completely zero-emission in 2045. This means it can be powered by electricity, hydrogen, or other low-carbon technologies such as biofuels or natural gas. To achieve this goal, we need to make two things happen:
- We need to electrify all short- and medium-haul trucks and buses (up to 80,000 pounds). That will require building out charging stations at highway rest stops and along the roads where they operate—and putting those trucks into production. The good news is there are already electric vehicles available in this range that can meet these needs today. And many more options are coming soon!
- We must electrify long-haul freight trains or build infrastructure for nonpetroleum fuels like hydrogen on major corridors between cities—or both!
Enabling the Transition to ZEVs
There are many factors to consider when making the transition to zero-emission vehicles. First, infrastructure must be built requiring hydrogen and battery charging stations and fueling stations. Second, battery technology needs to improve so that these vehicles can drive farther distances on a single charge. Third, there needs to be more electric trucks available in order for this market transformation to occur. Finally, there needs to be a better understanding of how ZEVs will interact with existing infrastructure, such as bridges, highways, airports, and ports.
Deploying ZEVs at Scale
Deploying ZEVs at scale will require a long-term vision and strong collaboration between governments, industry, academia, and other stakeholders. The technology and infrastructure are already in place; the biggest challenge is to build consumer demand. We have seen this happen with electric cars, which went from just 0.7% of new car sales in 2010 to 1.1% in 2017—a significant increase but still only a fraction of total sales (the latest figures show that 11% of global light-duty vehicle sales were EVs). ZEVs have great potential for reducing GHG emissions from freight transport. Still, we need to accelerate their commercialization by investing more in research and development to deliver vehicles tailored specifically for freight transport needs.
A Road to Zero-Emission Freight
This report presents a road map to zero-emission freight in the United States. Our analysis suggests that today’s freight transportation sector that relies on diesel fuel can be completely zero-emission in 2045. This will require a mix of policy, technology, and market forces to drive down costs and increase demand for these cleaner modes of transportation. The freight sector can be a leader in this transition, as it has been one of the largest users of diesel fuels in recent years (representing about half of all oil used for transport).
The freight transportation companies are facing a major transition. The federal government, industry leaders, and state governments need to work together to create the right policies and programs to enable the industry to move towards zero-emission vehicles. This shift will be challenging but also exciting. It will mean designing new trucks, installing charging stations throughout our communities, and creating incentives for businesses and consumers alike. But it’s also an opportunity for us all—the future of freight looks bright!