Carbon Neutral Transport

Australia has its first carbon neutral trucking company! Congratulations to Transforce Bulk Haulage in Dubbo who achieved this feat by saving fuel to reduce their carbon footprint then buying carbon credits to offset the remaining emissions.

So what’s stopping other transport firms from going carbon neutral?

Market Incentives & Barriers

Any emissions reductions need to be profitable to motivate action. According to Carbon War Room, heavy trucking can achieve huge emissions reductions using simple technologies with proven savings that are available today. Yet there are three formidable market barriers to get over:

  • access to capital for high upfront costs;
  • good information operators can trust;
  • principal-agent split incentive problem, where in a fragmented industry often those with incentive to save fuel don’t have the cash or the control. This can occur where prime movers and trailers have different owners, where fleets are leased, where freight companies hire sub-contractors, and where customers contract dedicated trucking services with operators paying for fuel.

Shipping also has cost-effective measures to reduce emissions available now. A DNV report points to 16 technical and 8 operational measures, as well as adopting alternative fuels such as biodiesel and LNG. Similar market barriers apply for Shipping as for Trucking. For both transport modes, shippers appear to be at the heart of environmental improvements, for freight owners are more likely to have the power as well as the appetite to pursue environmental improvements above basic regulatory compliance.

Cleaner fuels

There is no single solution to finding a cheap clean diesel alternative. Emissions regulations and oil price volatility will encourage the switch from diesel to a mix of cleaner fuels that need increasingly costly and complex equipment.

For the maritime industry the viability of LNG and biofuels has a longer time horizon than for Trucking, which has its challenges to overcome. As it is, Shipping will struggle with the low sulphur fuel mandate in 2015 due to insufficient refining capacity to make the cleaner grade. Biofuel refining capacity is far below what the shipping industry would need to make the switch.

Information Sharing

Sharing better information on fuel- and carbon-efficiency opportunities will help break down barriers, especially when this improves transparency at an organisational or even a vehicle level. Here are some current initiatives:

  • The Green Freight Europe program addresses the information barrier in Trucking through collaborative learning, reporting and comparative benchmarking
  • Carbon War Room has a shipping efficiency website which rates 60,000 existing ships on their specific fuel efficiency performance, enabling benchmarking against like vessels.
  • Three major shippers are choosing only to charter the most fuel efficient ships available in a demonstration to ship owners that the market will reward investments in sustainable fleets. Such environmental leadership is supported by a vessel fuel efficiency ratings system that uses reliable data from a respected technical specialist.

Measuring emissions to improve the bottom line, reduce risk and discover competitive advantage is a developing science. The ‘art’ of good information sharing may lie in real-time data by company – or by vessel, vehicle or aircraft – so that full supply chain awareness of Carbon Efficiency and Carbon Productivity become the mantra throughout all transport modes.

Accessing Funds to Invest

Trusting good information is important but the key to widespread adoption of fuel efficient technologies and clean fuels is funding the up-front costs.

How can we better link those with cash and the desire to save environmental resources, with those who want to save money but have little capital to invest in improvements? Carbon pricing on Transport helps the business case to finance fuel efficiency improvements, and incorporating carbon offsets helps even more, as Transforce Bulk Haulage has shown.

One maritime proposal wants a new bunker levy to contribute to an international fund so that ship emissions above set reduction targets can be offset by purchasing carbon credits. But who wants another fuel levy that may only be passed along the supply chain anyway?

New developments in California may point the way for Road Transport. Clean Mobility Centres embrace alternative fuels and enable drivers to offset the carbon emissions from their fuel purchases at the pump. Offset dollars go to the Carbon Fund Foundation to directly fund clean air projects.

What if we could offset Transport’s greenhouse gas emissions at the point of sale for all goods and services? Just like booking an airline seat where you choose to pay a little extra to offset your share of the flight’s emissions, imagine if you could offset the transport emissions of any delivery or purchase?

Imagine creating a clear transactional link between the consumer or organisation at the end of a supply chain and the transport operator needing funds to invest in fuel saving measures with economic as well as environmental benefits. It might work like this:

  • consumer chooses to offset the transport component of the emission profile of any goods purchase by paying a bit extra
  • that offset spend goes to a Transport-specific carbon finance fund
  • the fund is accessed by transport operators to finance precisely measured emission reduction projects with real financial paybacks
  • a strong transparent measurement methodology where integrity of data is key underpins emission reduction valuations for the consumer (investor) and transport operator
  • web, mobile and social media technologies enable ‘one click carbon offsetting’ as well as ‘real-time climate friendliness’ tracking of personal emissions savings to inform consumers

Yes – It’s Possible

Transport operators need better access to capital so they can make fuel- and carbon-saving investments, and operators, their customers and ultimately consumers must be able to have faith in the integrity of the emissions savings. Challenging, yes, but the unleashing of such incredible capital liquidity through ‘one click carbon offsetting at point of sale’ may generate huge Transport footprint reductions.

Look at what Transforce has achieved with its fleet of 11 trucks in regional NSW through fuel savings measures that save them money, supplemented with carbon offsets to neutralise their footprint. Yet it’s a question of immense scale to ask:

How can this approach be expanded throughout the mosaic of Australian supply chains?


Clean Transport Fuels – What are the Real Options?

Australia’s carbon price is here, so how can transport operators gain from cleaner fuels?

As a retailer, manufacturer, miner or farmer, where in your supply chain can clean fuels bring real benefits, now?

Biofuels win under Carbon Pricing

Biodiesel and ethanol now have a carbon price advantage over other transport fuels. While gaseous fuels (LNG, LPG and CNG) have lower greenhouse gas emissions than diesel and petrol, on July 1st they copped a tax “double whammy”:

  • Gas excise duty now rises each year while biofuels don’t pay excise until 2021.
  • Gaseous fuels attract a carbon price; biofuels don’t.

But costs continue to rise

Biodiesel and ethanol are made from agricultural commodities and organic waste materials. Rising demand in many industrial uses is pushing up prices of these feedstocks, and some are caught in the “Food versus Fuel” debate. The promise of offsetting society’s dependence on oil is now staged against our ability to feed growing populations. As food prices rise around the globe, economic, environmental and social trade-offs are made in a complex arena. Government support for biofuels in Europe is weakening as new laws narrow the choice of feedstocks.

Our small demand in global terms competes for inputs with big biofuel producers overseas. Australia has only a handful of biodiesel and ethanol plants, and none are world scale. Soaring Asian demand  consumes feedstocks and raises prices, challenging the viability of Aussie producers.

On a positive note, one Queensland company already produces an ultra clean synthetic diesel  and says they can do it for only 20 cents per litre.  20 cents! Is that a typo?

Biofuel blends

In practice, biofuels gain only a small carbon price advantage over other transport fuels. That’s because biodiesel and ethanol need blending with regular diesel and petrol to comply with fuel quality standards and excise rules. This reduces their carbon price advantage by 80% in the case of a B20 blend (20% biodiesel and 80% mineral diesel) down to 1.2 cents per litre. Then the logistical challenges in getting blended products to end users can pretty quickly gobble that up!

Market Reality

Market entry remains the biggest challenge of all:

  • it’s hard to supply biofuels at a competitive price due to the infrastructure and volumes needed
  • business models face rising production costs and can’t rely on government support
  • many people just don’t trust biofuels
  • lack of demand means local plants can’t expand to world-scale
  • fuel retailers need to invest in storage tanks to offer alternative fuels at the bowser

Playing with the Big Boys

Despite volatile prices, oil-based transport fuels dominate the market. Major oil companies have supply networks, production technologies and retail models they have refined for more than 100 years. While a few officially support alternative fuels, their practical steps have been tentative at best.

Getting traction

There’s no silver bullet for introducing cleaner transport fuels – a portfolio of fuels is needed. Today, both biofuels and gaseous fuels are used successfully in various light and heavy vehicle applications. Depending on a vehicle’s work task – it’s payload capacity, speed, stop-start intensity, distance range and fuel efficiency to name a few variables – each fuel has its’ “pro’s and cons”. Thorough due diligence is needed, and the clean fuels industry could better educate and communicate the sweet-spots to end users.

Meanwhile, trials of cleaner jet fuels show that biofuels can be safe, reliable and are ready for use, but would not meet immediate demand if large airlines make the switch. Yet such trials are vitally important, especially with the support of engine makers who remain critical to clean fuels take-up. Truck manufacturers like Scania run ethanol trials in their own operations to prove new clean fuel technologies.

Test & Invest

Yet even with government support, some avid users and a few keen oil companies, all clean fuels have their own market entry challenges. Carbon pricing may help some clean fuels, but it will fall short of what’s needed.

To make real progress, all supply chain partners must work together to understand which clean fuels can help their particular situation. Only through collaborative testing can the right clean fuels be chosen for each supply chain. Then clean fuel producers must make their fuels available at retail and industrial points of use – reliably and cost-effectively.

So if you want to win from cleaner fuels, you’ve got to make it happen. Get with your supply chain partners to test and invest in clean fuels now.