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Delivering on zero-emissions freight

Session leader

  • Matthew Klippenstein, Canadian correspondent, GreenCarReports (Presentation)


The scope of “freight” ranges from long-haul shipping to non-road engines inside logistics facilities to short-haul transportation. While port cities may be concerned about marine vehicles, he pointed out that they have limited mechanisms to transition them to innovative technologies, such as the hybrid tugboats Corvus Energy is developing. He also cited the Port of Los Angeles for its leadership in sustainability.

Similarly, the extent to which cities can influence long-haul vehicles is limited, however, local governments have more potential to address short-haul transportation. Innovative heavy-duty trucks are in development by companies such as BYD and Toyota, which are working on battery and fuel cell-powered engines, respectively. Each technology has its own ongoing challenges: whereas batteries have limited range, fuel cells lack a comprehensive refueling network. Klippenstein noted that the industry is risk averse and will need reliable empirical data to de-risk the transition away from internal combustion engines.


In this session, participants explored ways to accelerate uptake of new technology and how pilot projects can play an important role in decisions ranging from buying new vehicles through to fuel-switching. They also discussed challenges associated with “drop-in biofuels,” such as being able to produce it locally at scale and the potential for community opposition to local refineries.

There was discussion about the value of being “technology agnostic” versus setting parameters for technology and allowing the market to develop within them, such as insisting that the technology must be scalable. Setting parameters can help guard against heavy investment in one technology and later realising it is not the best path forward.

While much of the discussion centered around emergent technology, provision of reliable infrastructure, such as for EV charging, also presents a challenge. For example, electrifying cranes operating in ports could require significant upgrades to the grid and impose sudden short-term demands on power or heavy reliance on batteries.

Participants also discussed whether early adoption is in fact being slowed by expectations that vehicles will be automated. However, automation being easier for long-haul trucking, along highways for example, makes automation less likely to influence short-haul freight, which is more relevant to city transportation planning.


Some of the suggestions to encourage the trucking sector to adopt new technologies included:

  • Paying for freight transport by distance (a form of road pricing), to encourage efficiency and include full costs
  • Standardizing charging platforms, such as level 3 fast-charging stations 
  • De-risking early adoption of alternative fuels, vehicles and infrastructure

Cities specifically could aggregate their sustainable fleet demands towards influencing manufacturers and vendors. Coordinated procurement of clean technology could also lead to discounted purchase prices.