Air Pollution: The Light Shines on the Trucking Industry


Over the past decade or so the UK has developed its plans for a more eco-friendly motor vehicle industry. London’s bus fleet currently contains 1,500 hybrid buses, with a 5-year plan to make all of central London’s 300 single-decker buses zero emission and all 3000 double-deckers hybrid by 2020. The registrations of electric cars has risen from 3,500 at the end of 2013 to more than 80,000 as of December 2016. The challenge of tackling air pollution is becoming an uphill task. But what about the trucking industry? Our dependence on trucks and lorries only increases as population, consumerism, and international trade rises, but we cannot ignore the dangers that such dependence brings to the environment. At present, the UK seems to have mastered pioneering technologies in small motors and drones, for example, are on the verge of revolutionising personal deliveries. However, the HGV industry is falling behind.

Truck manufacturers are showing an awareness of the issue, fortunately, from the producers of individual parts at one end of the supply chain to the big chiefs at the other end. More and more suppliers are seeking out technology that will make their models increasingly eco-friendly, as seen in the partnership between Mercedes and German trailer manufacturer Krone. From a combination of smart engine technology, aerodynamic trailers, and low-rolling-resistance tyres, CO2 emissions could be lowered by up to 20%, whilst the cost of the trailer is saved in fuel consumption after 18 months.

Bigger toys, though, bring bigger potential. AI technology has been experimented with profusely in the automobile industry since Google’s announcement in 2009; now it’s time to roll it out into the HGV world. Six companies have banded together – DAF, Daimler, IVECO, MAN, Scania and Volvo – to bring electric, self-driving technology to the trucking industry. Smart trucks travel in ‘platoons’ of two or three vehicles connected via wireless, with the leading truck determining route and speed. Still in its experimental phase, if this project proves successful it could have massive implications on the carbon footprint of the trucking industry, not to mention the financial ones. The USA would save $35 billion on fuel if it went driverless.

There has also been a cross-party rallying call within the European Parliament to bring in CO2 standards for truck emissions, which, despite much work on those for cars and vans, there currently aren’t any. When this comes into place (the subject of ‘how’ is currently being ferociously debated), it will be easier to implement policies that pressurise the trucking industry to discourage emission heavy vehicles in favour of cleaner alternatives, similar to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s action on reducing vehicle emissions. The 5-year plan for cleaner buses mentioned earlier is a result of Khan’s scheme for an Ultra-Low Emission Zone, which will charge older vehicles that do not meet the Euro 4 standards for pollutant emissions.

Britain is also turning its eyes on technological improvements that will create more eco-friendly designs. Part-government, part-privately sponsored, Japanese manufacturer Horiba MIRA is undertaking a £200,000 project to cut HGV operating costs and reduce carbon emissions by automatically optimizing tyre pressures. This new tyre technology will improve fuel efficiency and is expected to reduce carbon emissions by around 8%. The goal for more eco-friendly transport is both one to be fought on the macro- and micro- scale if it is to succeed. Indeed, the scope of possibilities and the international interest unites governments and corporations from across the globe with the aim of making their shared world a better place.

With all these experiments in practice, the one thing that is certain is that change won’t come overnight. Things that come into play are the financial viability of technology against the results, and the social viability too, i.e. whether the technology and the policies are conducive to a functioning, safe society. It’s important to remember, though, that an estimated 40,000 people a year in Britain die prematurely due to air pollution, much of which comes from diesel emissions. Actions like cleaning up the trucking industry are imperative to a safe society and a happy environment, so any step in the right direction, however tiny, is a valuable one.