Australia’s transport sector is the third-largest and fastest-growing source of emissions in the country, accounting for a substantial 23% of the total emissions. If no interventions are made, the transport sector is projected to become the leading source of emissions by the year 2030. The recent increase in transport emissions by 3.6% from 2022 to 2023 is a clear indication of the urgent need for action in this area.

One concerning trend is the significant growth in diesel vehicle numbers in Australia, particularly in the freight sector. The emissions from on-road diesel vehicles have seen a 3.7% increase, further contributing to the overall emissions from the transport sector. The data shows that since 2014, diesel vehicle numbers have surged by 84%, while petrol vehicle numbers have only seen a 5% increase.

Passenger cars are a major contributor to transport emissions, accounting for 44% of all emissions, while freight trucks contribute 23%. In order to effectively reduce these emissions, it has been suggested that electrifying vehicles is one of the quickest ways to achieve this goal. However, the challenges posed by electrifying trucks are significantly greater than those for cars.

A study conducted to evaluate the lifecycle emissions from low-emission trucks in Australia focused on electric and hydrogen trucks. The research found that electric trucks are a more efficient and faster option for decarbonizing road freight by the legislated target dates for emission reductions. In contrast, hydrogen trucks exhibited significantly higher emissions intensity in some cases, making them a less favorable option for decarbonization.

The Lifecycle Carbon Footprint of Electric vs. Hydrogen Trucks

While both electric and hydrogen trucks produce zero tailpipe emissions, the full lifecycle of these vehicles must be considered to accurately assess their carbon footprint. Electric trucks, which rely on batteries charged from a power source, generally have lower emissions if the electricity source is cleaner. On the other hand, hydrogen trucks, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, face challenges due to the production methods of hydrogen.

Challenges in the Adoption of Low-Emission Trucks

Despite the benefits of low-emission trucks, the adoption rates remain low due to various barriers. Concerns about high upfront purchase costs, total ownership costs, and the lack of supporting infrastructure have deterred many operators from investing in these vehicles. Additionally, the uncertainty surrounding the performance and costs of low-emission trucks has contributed to the slow pace of adoption.

To accelerate the transition to low-emission trucks and overcome existing barriers, a combination of industry interventions and policies is crucial. Global investment in truck manufacturing to make suitable and affordable models available, along with tighter emission standards and government incentives such as subsidies, can help drive adoption. Moreover, independent trials and knowledge sharing can reduce uncertainties and facilitate informed decisions by operators and policymakers.

A Holistic Approach to Emission Reduction

Ultimately, decarbonizing fleets alone is not sufficient to effectively reduce emissions in the transport sector. A holistic approach that includes managing demand through pricing and taxation measures, shifting freight to more sustainable modes of transport like rail, and optimizing freight distribution is essential. Without these comprehensive measures, Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels will continue to pose challenges in achieving emission targets.


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