Planning for Decarbonising the HGV Freight Network

I want this to be a fairly short blog looking atthe general consensus on technical work.

There appears to be three broad options:

  1. Hydrogen
  2. Etrucks with large batteries
  3. Etrunk roads, trucks with smaller batteries

Hydrogen, especially Green Hydrogen (from zero carbon electricity) is often touted as a good use case given the problems with batteries on trucks. The problem is efficiency, the energy conversion efficiency for hydrogen is on third that of electric vehicles.

Etrucks,the problem here is batteries, which have to be huge, and the need for fast charging. Many trucks can charge at base or destination overnight. But for trips on a national scale, which is what the trunk road network is for, they dont have range. No practical battery only TEU carrying capable truck has yet been invented. When they arrive the batteries will be very heavy reducing the efficieny of haulage and generating large scale particulate pollution from tyres on roads. Moreover recent work by National Grid suggest that each ‘petrol station’ conversion for fast charging would require grid connections the size of a small town which would take years. Basically the smaller the vehicle (e.g. e bikes) the better the case for e vehicles solely battery powered. The bigger not.

E trunk roads have cateneries, like trollybuses, and smaller batteries which enable them to make the distance off the E trunk network to final destination or gaps between them. The cateneries could be rolled out fairly quickly as they are not needed under bridges and dont need 100% coverage. Trails such as in Sweden and in Scunthorpe have gone well and unlike large battery e-trucks existing fleets can be converted fairly easily. The problem is- like trollybus and rail – there has to be a minimum network for anyone to use them. It also requires a national effort to implement. This clearly is a job for National Highways. When however will we see key documents promised, like the national Hydrogen Strategy and the MoTs startegy for decaronising freight? The National Infrstructure Commission should be charged with drafting a strategy.

The obvious place to start is the centre of England outwards, from the Golden Triangle of logistics, north and south to London and the main Northern cities.

The ONS has estimated a “golden logistics triangle” that is within a four-hour drive of 90% of the British population. The area covers 289 square miles in the West Midlands, which is around half the size of London.

So starting with connections along the M6, A6, M1 and A1M should enable a network to lauch with a critical mass in perhaps 5 years, and as it would simply involve gantires with permitted development rights, no need for a DCO. National policy should encorage large scale logistics and SRFIs in this area. Stage 2 should be linking these areas to the main east coast ports and the Liverpool superport.

This could all be privately funded by a levy on internet deliveries by postive carbon modes. Trucks would then pay a track access charge, much like rail operators.

I am reminded of Steve Quartermain championing a national plan, but it always seemed to me there was no compelling use case. Why do you have to do it? Decarbonising transport- that is the use case.