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Longer lorries could be rolled out to cut UK carbon emissions, says government

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The UK government may allow longer lorries to be used on Britain’s roads from 2022 to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, after a nine-year trial found them to be safer, more economical and better for the environment.

The announcement follows a lengthy trial of 15.65-metre longer-semi trailers (LSTs), which are up to 2.05 metres longer than standard length lorry trailers. The LSTs allow up to 30 standard pallets to be carried in the trailer, compared to 26 in a standard size trailer, meaning fewer lorry journeys are needed to transport the same amount of goods, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

According to the Department of Transport, the trial saw a reduction in the number of lorries making journeys across the country, with an average eight per cent reduction in miles covered by freight, and a 6.2 per cent reduction in pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The government estimates that the widespread roll-out of LSTs could remove up to one in eight freight journeys in Britain by carrying the same cargo in fewer lorries. The trial also found that the use of LSTs reduced the number of road traffic collisions, due to the reduction in miles travelled compared to standard length trailers.

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Following the successful trial, and positive support from a public consultation on their wider introduction, the government says it will now consider if LSTs should be allowed on Britain’s roads outside trial conditions, and the vehicles could be rolled out sometime in 2022. However, the government says that while the trial showed the use of LSTs caused fewer collisions, “additional mitigations are under review” to ensure their safe use. These could include specific driver training, a duty on hauliers to undertake and record risk assessments of the proposed routes for LSTs to ensure they are appropriate and annual reports to monitor their safe use.

Commenting on the trial, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “This government is committed to fighting climate change and decarbonising our transport network, and we are working at pace to achieve net zero by 2050.

“Today’s announcement is a vital step forwards as we work to introduce more environmentally-friendly freight to our roads and build back greener.”

Meanwhile, the UK government recently announced a variety of additional measures designed to explore ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the haulage and freight sector to support the UK’s target of achieving net zero GHGs by 2050.

In particular, the government will shortly launch a separate trial using heavier-than-normal, 48-tonne lorries to transport heavier containers to and from UK rail depots. Currently, the maximum weight of a laden lorry that can be driven on roads in Britain is 44 tonnes. However, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) carrying freight to and from rail depots operate with a lower maximum payload weight than HGVs carrying road-only freight, due to the higher weight of the rail container and the specialised design of their trailer compared to a standard curtain-sided HGV. As a result, goods travelling to and from rail deports have to be dispersed among more lorries, leading to more road journeys, congestion and carbon emissions.  

The government says that allowing trucks to transport more goods in heavier HGVs to and from rail depots will encourage a modal shift of freight from road to rail, therefore helping to cut carbon emissions and also reducing traffic congestion.  

Meanwhile, the UK government recently announced £20 million in funding for trials exploring ways of accelerating the rollout and uptake of zero emission trucks as part of plans to decarbonise freight transport in the UK.  

The trials are designed to help design and develop cost-effective, zero emission HGVs and their refuelling infrastructure. The funding includes £2 million for a feasibility study into the possibility of creating a 20-kilometre ‘electric road system’ near Scunthorpe to trial ways of powering electric trucks. Electric road systems supply battery-electric trucks with electricity from overhead catenaries via a pantograph, therefore enabling the HGVs to charge dynamically.

The other projects include funding to design a possible future trial of hydrogen fuel cell trucks and new refuelling infrastructure in Scotland. There is also £10 million in funding for Leyland Trucks to provide public sector organisations with 20 DAF battery-electric trucks, therefore enabling learning to be gathered from field testing battery-electric lorries in a real-world, real-time logistics environment.

The various announcements follow the launch in July 2021 of the UK government’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan, which sets out a variety of measures for reducing carbon emissions from the UK’s transport sector to help the UK to achieve net zero GHGs by 2050. The plan includes a proposal to end the sale of all new non-zero emission HGVs (including diesel and petrol lorries), by 2040.

According to the government, transport - including road, aviation, rail and shipping - is the largest contributor to UK GHGs, with road transport alone accounting for almost a quarter of our total emissions in 2019.

The government adds that carbon dioxide emissions from HGVs in the UK increased by eight per cent between 2012 and 2019, due to a combination of increased HGV traffic and decreasing lorry fleet efficiency. It has also warned that the UK’s HGV fleet is predicted to grow by as much as eight per cent by 2050, which risks further increasing the road freight sector’s carbon dioxide emissions.

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