Hauliers need a lead from government if they are to adopt emerging fuel technology

The RHA has urged the government to develop clear, long-term policies to support development of alternative fuels and emission-lowering technology for the road transport sector.

Officials must also engage with hauliers and help them understand what their options are when new technology legislation is introduced, such as the roll-out of Euro-6 engines.

Jack Semple, director of policy at the RHA, spoke to delegates at the Developing low-emission transport in the UK conference in London earlier this week about the challenges facing the road haulage sector in adopting emerging fuel technology.

Diesel is an efficient fuel the industry knows, he said, and since the roll-out of Euro-6 is also an extremely clean technology and far lower in carbon emissions than hauliers expected.

“Which is something our members found out to their surprise because the government was given to understand it would be worse than Euro-5 in terms of miles per gallon,” Semple added.

In terms of emerging fuels, the DfT has committed an additional £25m to spend on supporting gas usage in HGVs. However, Semple said there remained misconceptions about gas.

“There is very little industry demand; virtually no interest at the moment, but that may change. If we look back over the past 20 years, the reasons for gas have changed a lot, but the promotion of gas and the explanation and understanding of gas in the haulage industry has moved very little,” Semple said.

He added that is was important that the industry understood the government’s intentions for gas usage, because there had been a significant amount of investment compared with other technology to lower emissions, and no policy to date.

Electric vehicle technology had been hindered, Semple believed, for reasons of reliability and cost.

Although there were a number of large companies interested in using electric vehicles, they had been put off at the costs of installing a substation for refuelling purposes, for example.

“In contrast, we have an NHS vehicle operated by DHL, which is a hybrid (pictured). It is a series hybrid unlike the parallel hybrids developed by the truck manufacturers and has been largely developed in the UK by DHL with some suppliers,” Semple said.

He felt that perhaps hauliers viewed hybrid “as a neglected technology”, but that it had a lot to offer up to 14 tonnes in urban environments in the short to medium term, such as fuel economy savings and driver comfort from electric vehicles. “I think this may well be revisited,” Semple added.

The road haulage sector was increasingly IT-led, with a huge focus on carbon reduction through better scheduling of lorries, however these strides had very low visibility in the government.

There was also far more potential from telematics technology that had yet to be embraced by the sector, which would increase efficiency and drive down emissions further.

In addition, there would also be more demand from operators wanting to run longer semi-trailers  in addition to the 1,800 permits already allocated from a 10-year government trial of the 14.6m- and 15.65m-long units.

“We’re keen for more smaller firms to have the opportunity to operate these vehicles as well as the very large firms. If we’re going to reduce carbon and we can improve transport efficiency per journey, then that ticks a box,” said Semple.