While zero-emissions transportation is still a fairly new field, zero-emissions cargo transportation is practically unheard-of.
Cargo transportation, the backbone of which, at least in the United States, is the over-the-road (OTR) tractor trailer and the diesel locomotive, generates millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases. OTR tractor trailers, for example, generated ≈400 MMT (million metric tons) of greenhouse gas emissions in 2011. Diesel locomotives added another ≈48 MMT to the mix. All told, cargo transportation accounts for ≈28% of transportation emissions, and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and DOE (Department of Energy) are taking notice.
We have seen some development in emissions-reduction technology regarding locomotive transportation, such as fuel cell and hybrid natural gas, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of development in OTR tractor trailer efficiency. True, we’ve seen some aerodynamic tweaking and even robot trucks, but we need to see some more work in this area if we’re going to reduce that ≈400 MMT of greenhouse gas emissions from the OTR tractor trailer fleet.
To that end, the DOE is offering up to $10 million to further the development of OTR and rail emissions-reduction technologies, specifically Zero Emissions Cargo Transportation (ZECT). The DOE funding is looking toward cargo transportation systems, including OTR tractor trailers and locomotives that run, for the most part of their duty cycles, in pure electric mode. Electric motors need to be the primary motive force, but the energy source is as varied as they come, including overhead cables, onboard lithium-ion battery packs, or hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Considering that cargo transportation, and its associated emissions, continue to rise, ZECT technology will form an integral part to our national cargo infrastructure.