Innovating Toward Climate-Friendly Transport
From floods to hurricanes to wildfires, we’ve seen how climate change can impact the movement of goods and people around the world. The inverse is true, too — the trucks, buses, ships, and planes that drive the global economy make a significant contribution to total global carbon emissions.
The transportation sector produces about 15% of global climate emissions. In the United States, road transportation is now the largest source of carbon emissions. If the shipping industry were a country, it would be among the world’s top emitters. Aviation is responsible for just under 5% of total carbon emissions. All of these sectors are expected to grow over the next several decades.
Each of these sectors faces unique challenges. But each is also primed for technological improvements that will speed their transition. And investors are responding. Of the $70 billion invested in climate tech in the last two years, nearly 40% of it has gone to transportation efforts. Of key importance now is ensuring that these solutions live up to their emission-reducing promises. Why? Because commercial trucks, planes, and ships last decades. We need to get this right the first time.
Zero-Emission Trucks and Buses
When it comes to the energy transition, trucking is one of the fastest-developing sectors. The number of electric truck models has skyrocketed, and so have sales. Large fleets are now focusing their attention not on whether they’ll make the switch, but how, when, and how quickly. For a deeper dive into how this transition has escalated, be sure to check out my Q&A with Jason Mathers, who leads EDF’s vehicle and freight strategy.
Flying Carbon Friendly
Reducing climate emissions from aviation may sound like an unmeetable challenge. How do you replace petroleum-based jet fuel and the massive amount of energy it creates? The answer is better jet fuel, produced from renewable feedstock like corn, oil seeds, or even algae instead of fossil fuels. Just as important as replacing fossil fuels is creating a supply chain that protects forest, food costs, and human, labor, land, and water rights of the communities that grow the stock.
The challenge for innovators and investors is ensuring these alternative fuels are produced and implemented with the highest of integrity — both in performance and environmental impact. EDF recently published the High-Integrity SAF Handbook, which outlines how fuel producers, airlines, policymakers, and investors can better identify, support, invest in, and transition to high-integrity sustainable aviation fuels. It’s also a good read for entrepreneurs and innovators who are interested in how biology can provide promising (and lucrative) climate solutions.
Rethinking Freight Hauling
In the United States alone, an estimated 90 million tons of freight are moved every day — a 70% increase in the last 20 years. And as the economy grows and more and more companies deploy “just in time” shipping, the number of truck and ship trips is expected to increase steadily. Reducing emissions throughout the vast freight system will reduce the sector’s impact on climate change and the health impacts its air pollution has on port communities.
The freight industry moves the global economy, quite literally, and nearly invisibly. And because there are so many pieces to the system, there’s almost limitless opportunity for innovation.
Shipping companies are using on-board solar panels to supplement their energy use. Ships the size of several football fields are using sails (yes, sails) and specialized engines to reduce fuel use. In addition to switching from diesel to electric models, trucking companies are deploying sophisticated GPS systems to optimize their routes, reduce fuel costs, and cut emissions.
In fact, the list of fuel-, cost-, and emission-saving possibilities is so extensive, EDF produced The Good Haul handbook, a collection of real-world case studies that demonstrate various innovations that are already freight transportation and protect the environment.