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Transportation Giants Are Driving a Sea Change in Sustainable Delivery

Logistics providers on land and sea are developing and integrating alternate-propulsion vehicles and fuels for their delivery fleets as an environmental and cost-savings strategy.

Leading the way for cargo and parcel delivery companies are electric trucks of all kinds, while ocean carriers are re-engineering ships for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and low carbon fuels in response to mandates and market conditions.

Moving toward a corporate target of zero emissions by 2050, DHL is rolling out a new fleet of electric delivery vans to serve U.S. markets. The 63 NGEN-1000 electric delivery cargo vans, produced by equipment manufacturer Workhorse Group, are built for safety and efficiency, targeting last-mile delivery, DHL said. The vans are capable of running up to 100 miles on a single charge.

The new vehicles add to the company’s growing alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) fleet, which includes fully electric, hybrid-electric, compressed natural gas (CNG) and clean diesel.

“When I look at the U.S., I’m targeting having 25 percent of my vehicles to be green by 2020,” Greg Hewitt, CEO of DHL Express U.S., said. “That includes electric, propane, hybrid and hydrogen. Where we’ve been challenged is–most of our routes are more than 200 miles per day and require a bigger payload and cubic capacity–the price point and capability is not where it needs to be yet to do those big conversions. We’ll also be introducing in Los Angeles later this year the first green [trucks] capable of moving 52-foot trailers.”

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FedEx Corp. is expanding its fleet to add 1,000 Chanje V8100 electric delivery vehicles. FedEx is purchasing 100 of the vehicles from Chanje Energy Inc. and leasing 900 from Ryder System Inc.

FedEx said it believes wider adoption of alternative-fuel, electric and hybrid-electric vehicles will play a key role in reducing global emissions, while diversifying and expanding renewable energy solutions. The electric vehicles can travel more than 150 miles when fully charged and have the potential to help FedEx save 2,000 gallons of fuel while eliminating 20 tons of emissions per vehicle each year.

“FedEx continually seeks new ways to maximize operational efficiency, minimize impacts and find innovative solutions through the company’s ‘Reduce, Replace, Revolutionize’ approach to sustainability,” Mitch Jackson, FedEx chief sustainability officer, said.

UPS said last year it plans to deploy 50 plug-in electric delivery trucks comparable in acquisition cost to conventionally fueled trucks. The company is collaborating with Workhorse Group to design the vehicles from the ground up, with zero tailpipe emissions.

“Electric vehicle technology is rapidly improving with battery, charging and smart grid advances that allow us to specify our delivery vehicles to eliminate emissions, noise and dependence on diesel and gasoline,” Carlton Rose, president of global fleet maintenance and engineering for UPS, said. “These new electric trucks will be a quantum leap forward for the purpose-built UPS delivery fleet. The all electric trucks will deliver by day and re-charge overnight. We are uniquely positioned to work with our partners, communities and customers to transform freight transportation.”

In Europe, DHL Freight recently deployed one of the first LNG-powered Iveco Stralis long-haul trucks capable of towing a mega trailer. During a year-long trial, the truck will operate as a daily shuttle between DHL’s logistics center and a BMW Group production plant in southern Germany.

LNG-fueled trucks offer 15 percent higher fuel efficiency than traditional diesel-powered engines and have a reach of 1,500 kilometers, DHL noted. They also emit 99 percent less particulate matter and up to 70 percent less nitrogen oxide emissions than levels required by the European diesel standards norms.

For ocean carriers, countries that are part of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) adopted an initial strategy last year on the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships as part of a broader mission to phase out those emissions from global shipping. The new strategy calls for reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

Under the regulation, the new sulfur content of bunker fuel content must be 0.5 percent compared to the current 3.5 percent fuel sulfur content ceiling. To become compliant, ship owners will have to invest in compliant fuels, LNG or scrubber technology. This is aimed at lowering global shipping’s sulfur emissions, a source blamed on contributing to respiratory disease and acid rain, by more than 80 percent, according to IMO.

A.P. Moller – Maersk instituted a bunker adjustment factor surcharge to recover the company’s costs of compliance with a global sulfur cap that enters into force on Jan. 1. Maersk noted that the regulation is meant to comply with the IMO guidelines.

“We fully support the new rules,” Vincent Clerc, chief commercial officer of Maersk Line parent company, said. “They will be a significant benefit to the environment and to human health. The 2020 sulfur cap is a game changer for the shipping industry.”

Maersk also announced aims to have carbon-neutral vessels commercially viable by 2030.

Convinced of the urgency to act on climate, a group of Dutch multinationals–FrieslandCampina, Heineken, Philips, DSM, Shell and Unilever–all members of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition (DSGC), joined forces with Maersk in a pilot project to take a tangible step toward the decarbonization of ocean shipping.

The pilot, using up to 20 percent sustainable second-generation biofuels on a large triple-E ocean vessel that will sail 25,000 nautical miles from Rotterdam to Shanghai and back on only biofuel blends, will save an estimated 1.5 million kilograms of CO2 and 20,000 kilograms of sulfur.

Søren Toft, chief operating officer of A.P. Moller – Maersk, said, “Biofuels are one of the viable solutions that can be implemented in the short and medium term. Through this pilot, we aim to learn more about using biofuels in general, and to understand the possibilities around increasing its usage in a sustainable and economical way.”