Decarbonising road freight transport: The role of zero-emission trucks and intangible costs

MaREI researchers at University College Cork, Vahid Aryanpur & Fionn Rogan, have published a high-impact Nature paper titled ‘Decarbonising road freight transport: The role of zero-emission trucks and intangible costs’.

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The road freight sector faces significant challenges in decarbonisation, driven by high energy demand and limited availability of low-emission fuels and commercialised zero-emission vehicles. This study investigates intangible costs associated with advanced electric and hydrogen-powered trucks, including recharging/refuelling time, cargo capacity limitations, and buyer reluctance towards emerging technologies. Utilising a comprehensive whole-systems modelling approach considering low- and zero-emission fuels, inter-sectoral dynamics, and the carbon budget, we explore cost-optimal decarbonisation pathways for heavy, medium, and light trucks. Scenario and sensitivity analyses reveal the following insights: (1) Electric trucks dominate the market under mitigation pathways across all weight categories. However, the inclusion of intangible costs triggers a shift, leading to the emergence of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for heavy trucks, while battery electric vehicles are preferred for medium and small trucks. (2) Prioritising heavy truck decarbonisation and taking early action are crucial to avoid carbon lock-in effects. (3) Considering limited decarbonisation options, where electric and hydrogen-fuelled trucks are pivotal, this research highlights the significance of policy instruments targeting operational expenditures over conventional purchase price incentives. Such policies offer dual benefits by supporting truck owners and directing incentives more precisely towards achieving measurable emission reductions.