CCC: Decarbonising heavy transport critical to meet NZ emissions targets

In News7 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 11, 2021

New Zealand will need to almost completely decarbonise its transport system if it is to meet the Government‘s emissions reduction targets by 2050, according to the Climate Change Commission‘s Inaia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa report. 

The report provides advice to the Government on its first three emissions budgets and direction for its emissions reduction plan 2022 – 2025. It notes the uptake of electric and zero-emission cars, buses and trucks; improving the efficiency of vehicles and freight movement; and increasing the use of rail and coastal shipping for freight are all key to reducing the transport sector‘s contribution to the country‘s emissions.

According to the Commission, transport makes up almost 33% of total long-lived gas emissions in New Zealand. Action to reduce these is critical if New Zealand is going to reach its climate targets, including beginning work now to decarbonise heavy transport and freight. 

The Commission recommends the Government develops a national low-emissions freight strategy, that includes moving more freight by rail and sea. It says the Government should also encourage the production and use of low-emissions fuels, such as biofuels, electricity, and green hydrogen.

New Zealand has one of the oldest heavy transport fleets in the OECD. Most heavy transport is used to move freight, but it is also used for passenger services such as planes, buses, and ferries. 

“Decarbonising heavy transport is challenging, yet it is critical that progress is made in this area,” the report stated. 

The source of transport emissions is broken down as petrol and diesel used by cars, SUVs and trucks (91%), domestic flights (7%) and rail and coastal shipping (2%). The CCC‘s path for the sector shows that transport emissions would reduce to 8.8 Mt CO2-e by 2035.

According to the report‘s demonstration path, which would deliver net carbon dioxide emissions from New Zealand at zero by 2038, of the trucks imported in 2030, 42% of medium trucks and 18% of heavy trucks would be electric. By 2035, these would increase to 95% and 73% respectively. 

In the short term, optimising the current heavy-transport fleet can achieve immediate emissions reductions. This means ensuring the heavy fleet runs as efficiently as possible, minimising freight movements and using the lowest emissions form of freight transport available. 

To realise these opportunities, the Commision said some challenges will need to be overcome. 

“Many sectors are driven by ‘just-in-time‘ or ‘delivery on demand‘ business models, so freight needs to be delivered quickly and reliably (such as perishable goods),” it said.

“These models limit the ability to shift away from road, because they prioritise timeliness and reliability over other objectives.”

The additional handling and cost of shifting freight from trucks to rail can be a significant disincentive, especially for short distances. Rail and coastal shipping will need to offer freight operators more reliable services to make a significant impact on road freight volumes. 

The Commission said integrating road, rail and coastal shipping into a cohesive transport system is critical, as the amount of freight moving around the country is expected to grow significantly over the next 30 years. 

In the medium- to long-term, the CCC says switching to low-carbon fuels such as electricity, biofuels and green hydrogen will be central to reducing emissions from heavy vehicles. 

While the CCC urges significant electrification of heavy transport, it said there are some barriers to decarbonising heavy transport and freight.

Compared to other transport such as buses, the electrification of trucks is slower to begin due to higher costs and technology barriers, such as current battery technology not allowing for the greater daily distances many trucks need to travel. 

“For heavy-duty trucks in particular, the extent to which batteries or hydrogen fuel cells will provide a more viable and cost-effective solution is uncertain,” the report said.

“Battery electric trucks are a more efficient use of energy, requiring roughly one-third as much input electricity as a fuel cell truck running on green hydrogen. However, hydrogen fuel cell trucks offer other advantages such as being faster to refuel, travelling longer distances, and not having heavy batteries that take the place of freight.”

The Commission said there are fewer opportunities for improving the efficiency of trucks. 

“However, further opportunities to reduce emissions from freight exist through operational efficiency (such as route optimisation and collaborative use) and switching some freight movements from road to rail and coastal shipping.”

The demonstration path assumes 5% operational efficiency gains in road freight and that 3% of total freight tonne-kilometres can switch by 2030. Further reductions in freight emissions could be achieved by completing the electrification of the Auckland to Wellington railway line and electrifying the Hamilton to Tauranga railway line. 

Read the full Climate Change Commission‘s Inaia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa report here: