Comment: Tesla trucks alone will not save the transport industry


Phill Davies, Co-Founder of Magway, a UK firm behind a new form of e-commerce and freight delivery system, believes the transition to electric vehicles won’t be enough to secure needed emissions reductions for sectors such as logistics, and offers a few thoughts on alternative approaches

The death of the internal combustion engine (ICE) has now been given a date in the UK. Come 2030 and the sale of new diesel and petrol-only vehicles will be outlawed. Following the phase-out on sales, all new vehicles will need to be fully zero emission at the tailpipe from 2035.

If successful, this puts the UK on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonise cars and vans; a great achievement! The phase out of non-hybrid or non-electric vehicles forms part of an ongoing shift towards a greener transport industry, in part driven by government net zero initiatives. Schemes such as London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, for example, will extend further out of central London in late 2021. For consumers, the answer to these changes has for some time now been electric vehicles. From Tesla’s semi to Volvo and DAF, manufacturers have been preparing for this moment.

However, while electric vehicles will no doubt play an important role in the future of the transport industry, especially when it comes to the cars consumers will drive, they alone will not be enough. While shifting to electric does have clear environmental benefits, the batteries that power electric vehicles still have limitations. With issues around weight and the harm caused by materials used in their construction, more new and innovative ways are needed to help make the transport industry truly sustainable. It’s time then to look at what the green future of the logistics industry will look like.

Racing forward to first place
A future gaze should encompass a much wider look at the contribution the logistics industry makes towards the economy as a whole. At Magway, we are developing a revolutionary zero-emission high-capacity delivery system that not only transports goods more efficiently, more securely and at greater speed but makes our roads safer and our air less polluted by removing the need for 90% of traditional online freight deliveries HGV haulage.

Many severely underestimate the hidden cost of the UK’s logistics model. The Department for Transport’s ‘Freight Carbon Review 2017’ estimates that 23.5% of UK CO2 is emitted directly from road transport, of which a third is from commercial vehicles. Propelled at high-speed, along a network of underground and overground pipes, by magnetic waves generated by linear motors, Magway systems are a zero-emission step-change in how we transport online freight and make deliveries. When powered using renewable energy, the scope to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions grows further.

Mega infrastructure projects like HS2 also aim to tackle a net zero carbon logistics industry. In addition to tempting passengers to swap car journeys for a faster mass transit option, by dedicating new intercity lanes to high-speed trains HS2 frees-up space on existing rail networks for additional freight transport. According to HS2 every freight train can remove nearly 80 lorries off the road and transporting freight by rail reduces carbon emissions by 76% compared to road haulage. Incorporating Magway takes this even further with each individual system having the capacity of 40,000 forty foot HGV’s.

Sustainable aviation fuels
Change is also happening in the skies above. This February, British Airways announced it will begin operating a number of flights partly powered by sustainable fuels as early as 2022. In a partnership with LanzaJet, the fuel derived from sustainable ethanol and produced at a plant in Georgia, USA, will deliver a reduction of more than 70 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fossil jet fuel. This is equivalent to taking almost 27,000 petrol or diesel cars off the road each year.

However, the big elephant in the room is also how to balance the creation of a greener logistics industry with a successful post-COVID-19 economic recovery. In short, we must seize this for the opportunity it is. When summarising the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) 2020 progress report, Chairman Lord Deben stated that “The UK is facing its biggest economic shock for a generation. Meanwhile, the global crisis of climate change is accelerating. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these urgent challenges together; it’s there for the taking. The steps that the UK takes to rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic can accelerate the transition to a successful and low-carbon economy and improve our climate resilience. Choices that lock in emissions or climate risks are unacceptable.”

The challenge is clearly set, and it is also certainly being heard. For example, the ‘Short Straits to Smart Straits’ initiative proposed by the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel at the beginning of February is a completely revolutionary, but complementary, alternative to the UK Government’s call for freeport bids. In addition to using ‘dynamic digital optimisation’ to create a virtual border solution as part of the Government’s 2025 UK Border Strategy, the project proposes incorporating technology from Magway and other partners to create the UK’s first zero emissions logistics corridors. Demonstrating British ingenuity in developing green freight solutions ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this November, the result will be the transformation of the ‘Short Straits’ into a high speed, low carbon trading gateway which has the potential to create new economic opportunities while also reducing the impact of logistics on the environment.

Full steam ahead?
Although the move to carbon neutrality will be a significant undertaking and more guidance on carbon reduction strategies for the private sector is certainly needed, the desire from both business and consumers is clearly very strong. COP26 will no doubt propel efforts further, and the UK is already reaching several key milestones in the net zero journey. Both the UK’s, and Europe’s, renewable electricity output outpaced fossil fuel generation for the first time in 2020 according to Think Tank, Ember. Moreover, the UK government’s target of 40GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 should also ensure that the next decade sees further rapid declines in gas generation.

Reaching these goals are pivotal moments in the construction of a carbon-free, electric alternative to present modes of transportation. We certainly have cause to be optimistic.