Global oil giant Shell and business consultants Deloitte have jointly published a report that they say indicates there is  a path for the world’s trucks and buses to produce net-zero emissions by 2050, but which also identifies “urgent action” that needs to be taken to reach the goal.

The report called ‘Decarbonising Road Freight: Getting into Gear’, highlights 22 solutions for the next decade that would help address underlying economic, technical, regulatory and organisational factors behind decarbonisation and was based on responses from North American operators

The report says  that several technologies needed to reach the ultimate goal may be within reach and sooner than some people expect.

Many of the 158 participants who were interviewed for the report believe fuel-cell-electric and battery-electric trucks will be commercially viable in the next five to 10 years.

“Once produced at scale, hydrogen will likely be the most cost-effective and viable pathway to net-zero emissions for heavy-duty and long-route medium-duty vehicles, and electric mobility will do the same for light-duty and short-route medium-duty vehicles,” said Carlos Maurer, Shell’s executive vice-president of sectors and decarbonisation.

The study suggests companies should prioritize vehicle replacements in short-range and urban duty cycles using fuel cells and battery-electric vehicles. Coalitions and partnerships are also seen as a way to deploy such trucks and fuels in regional clusters and along high-traffic corridors.

“There is now broad consensus that hydrogen will play a key role to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors like heavy-duty transportation,” said Randy MacEwan, president and CEO of Ballard Power Systems.

“Fuel-cell-electric powertrains can meet the range, payload and utilisation of road freight trucks. We see technology improvement and cost reduction driving the cost of ownership of fuel cell trucks lower than diesel vehicles within this decade.”

 “Road freight is currently responsible for around 9 per cent of global CO2 emissions, and with demand for road freight services set to double by 2050, urgent action must be taken now to put the sector on a pathway to net-zero emissions by then,” said Shell downstream director Huibert Vigeveno.

“Fleet companies, truck manufacturers and energy providers have already started investing in low- and zero-emission solutions, but the sector requires a more robust set of policies and regulations to accelerate change.”

While low-emission liquified natural gas (LNG), bioLNG, compressed natural gas (CNG), and biodiesel can lower emissions and should be quickly introduced around supply points, the report concludes it should not happen where it would deploy solutions that actually disrupt the rollout of zero-emission options.

Other recommended actions include improving truck designs, using digital systems to optimize fleets, and using high-quality fuels and lubricants.

Meeting goals set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement, which the U.S is rejoining under the newly installed Biden Administration, requires road freight emissions to drop 60 per cent by 2050 when compared to a 2018 baseline.

There are still barriers to overcome, though. Eighty per cent of those who participated in the study referred to a lack of regulatory incentives and the challenges of replacing infrastructure to be major barriers, while 70 per cent cited limited demand from customers.

“The next 10 years will be critically important for the road freight sector to introduce zero-emission vehicles into the global fleet,” added Carlos Maurer.

The full report can be seen here