The Trucking Industry at the Turning Point of an Environmental Revolution

By Geneviève Cournoyer-Scalise August 26 2020

International trade development and e-commerce’s increasing popularity have boosted global demand for transportation and logistics. Local shops are still very present in our day-to-day lives, but merchants must deal with many different suppliers located over a vast area to meet customer demands. An ecological revolution in the transportation industry seems to be inevitable to remain competitive in a fierce and evolving market.

Globalization and the buzz regarding e-commerce have a direct impact on the volume of goods transported that results in a higher number of trucks on the roads. We can observe the harmful pollution effects of this kind of business activity on the environment. According to the latest data released in 2019 by the Government of Canada, domestic freight transportation increased by 70%, from 575 to 976 billion tonne-kilometres between 1990 and 2016. To fully understand the magnitude of the situation, a tonne-kilometre is an activity measure that represents the movement of one (1) tonne of merchandise across a distance of one (1) kilometre.1 The transportation quantity in tonne-kilometres is calculated by multiplying the mass transported (t) by the distance travelled expressed in kilometres (km).

In Canada, we are already on the cusp of a trillion tonne-kilometres and everything suggests that these numbers will be even more prominent in the years to come. Freight trucks are responsible for the largest increase of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, from 50 megatons in 2000 to 72 megatons in 2017, as described in a report issued by Natural Resources Canada in 2019. Therefore, the emergence of new greener trends in the transport industry is not surprising as concrete environmental solutions to reduce the global ecological footprint. Promising initiatives towards a greener approach to the road transportation industry are already on the way.

Alternative Fuel: A Well-Established Solution Worldwide

fuel for road transport

Nowadays, gasoline and diesel are still in use by freight forwarders and commercial carriers. However, several major cities in Europe have banned diesel trucks from urban centres to limit emissions of air pollutants and GHGs. There are many reasons to believe that this European trend will extend to us within a few years as it is already gaining traction in the USA. To overcome this constraint, switching to natural gas or biogas converted vehicles has many advantages over conventional fuels including reduced emissions, fuel savings and self-produced fuels. Obviously, some mechanical modifications on truck engines are needed to run on this alternative fuel.

In the 80–90s, Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) experienced a brief burst of popularity in Canada. At the time, a reduced number of vehicles capable of being converted to natural gas and the withdrawal of provincial and federal government grants from the project contributed to their decline. However, there are approximately 12,000 NGV vehicles still in use in Canada at the moment. A rather paltry figure compared to Pakistan, the world’s largest user, which has a fleet of 2,400,00 NGVs, followed by Argentina and Brazil, which respectively own 1,800,000 and 1,600,00 vehicles powered by natural gas.2 But there is a trend toward this eco-solution regaining popularity in Canada as major automobile and truck manufacturers want to launch newer NGVs equipped with a complete natural gas fuel system on the North American market, according to the Ontario government.

Truck Electrification in North America

Without a doubt, electric trucks are experiencing an unprecedented boom. In January 2020, manufacturer BYD announced the delivery of its 100th electric truck equipped with a rechargeable battery to the United States. BYD has delivered more than 12,000 zero-emission electric trucks from all classes worldwide.3 At the beginning of this year, the popular American brewery Anheuser-Busch, headquartered in St. Louis Missouri, placed an order for 21 semi truck to BYD, the largest class 8 truck order placed in the USA. It’s not surprising that Volvo Trucks North America has already started selling its own electric semi truck VNR and that Daimler Trucks North America plans to mass produce their electric Freightliner eCascadia and Freightliner eM2 for a market entry as early as 2021.

Opting for a zero-emission electric truck fleet may seem like a long-term cost-effective ecological solution, but logistical questions still remain about their power charger, their cost, and their location. Initially, most companies that have chosen to electrify their truck fleet had to make major investments to use this new technology. This is about to change. As the market matures, companies are now sharing the cost to create and implement enormous shared depots, ready to charge dozens to hundreds of heavy vehicles. These large parking depots will be strategically scattered across North America pretty soon.

fuel for road transport

Electric charging equipment dealers are educating fleet managers all over the world on the benefits of open standards regarding the access to these huge charging depots that could even become an additional income generated for their business. For example, some charging spaces could be available as a rental facility to small businesses in the truck freight industry. As their financial means are limited, some businesses may see many advantages to sharing or renting a recharging station in a depot instead of funding their own private one, which requires major investment.

Considering our territorial proximity to the United States, the democratization of this idea might be an incentive for Canada to invest in the development of its rechargeable electric station network. A proven and potentially significant environmental solution for sustainable development for our country.

When AI Serves Environmental Progress

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is used and highly rated by multiple types of industries all over the world. For a freight forwarder company, the implementation of this AI software will promote a significant revolution in the management of operations while reducing the harmful effects of pollution related to goods transportation. With a limited human touch and by grouping all operations by business sector, this new electronic technology, equipped with artificial intelligence, coordinates all the operational policies and activities like a control tower. ERP informs users in real time for potential improvements in performance by proposing solutions such as the optimization of the chosen routes and stops planned in the logbook, delays due to road work in the area, or traffic jams in a specific area at a certain time of the day. Thus, with live communication exchanges with AI, truck drivers can optimize their journey according to the app recommendations, which will save time, fuel and thereby reduce the environmental footprint of the enterprise.

Established in the USA, ELD Is Heading to Canada

US and Canadian flags

Transport Canada has announced a change in regulation to ensure better control over the highway transportation industry. As of June 2021, the installation of a tamper-proof Electronic Logging Device (ELD) will be mandatory on board all Canadian freight trucks. Besides making it easier for drivers during safety inspections, this device provides access to a Wi-Fi connection and to an integrated geolocation system that ensures real time monitoring during goods transportation to offer better control and compliance in accordance with regulations on driving and rest hours, as required by the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ). As all information will now be transferred electronically, paper daily logs will be eliminated. This approach will also help the industry to go green, since even the smallest gesture can make a difference in a major revolution!

Are you ready to follow suit towards an environmentally responsible future for the transportation sector or will you stick to the well-established practices?

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