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Climate Action Roadmap

Climate Action Roadmap

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Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs)

The workhorse of domestic supply chains in the UK is the heavy goods vehicle, or HGV, which refers to all lorries with a gross weight greater than 3.5 tonnes. Vehicle specifications vary by size and payload (how much can be carried), but for most retail supply chains the predominant HGV class is articulated (known as ‘artics’) with a maximum gross weight of 40 tonnes. Articulated HGVs carried 62% of freight (897 million tonnes) in 2019, while smaller rigid HGVs carried 38%.[54] Critically, HGVs are also used extensively in importing to the UK from continental Europe, and throughout product supply chains in countries worldwide. 

HGVs are highly flexible logistics modules that can deliver ambient or refrigerated loads on long distance ‘trunking’ routes, as well as directly to required pick up and drop off destinations. Overwhelmingly powered by diesel, refuelling is standardised and readily available. 

Emissions profile

HGVs account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and 13% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions for road transport in the UK according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).[55] As of 2016, UK freight movements by HGVs were responsible for 22x more emissions than freight by rail and 11 x more than freight by sea.[56] The key variables determining HGV emissions per km are:

  • Vehicle - design and maintenance, including tyres
  • Weight - total weight, including vehicle and ‘payload’ (i.e. what it is carrying)
  • Temperature control - frozen and refrigerated vehicles require additional fuel for operation
  • Driving - speed and style of driving
  • Fuel - diesel versus alternatives such as compressed natural gas

Defra provides emissions factors for 16 categorisation of HGVs, including refrigerated, different sizes and variable loadings.

Emissions are reported by retailers as scope 1 for all owned and operated fleet, and otherwise as scope 3 for contracted services and supply chain.

Routes to decarbonisation for HGVs

In the short term, decarbonisation involves optimising the efficiency of operating HGV fleets. In the medium term, expected from 2030, there will be a shift from fossil fuel powered vehicles to low carbon alternatives such as electric and hydrogen. Interim technologies include lower carbon fuels including compressed natural gas (CNG), biodiesel and biogas.

[54] Domestic road freight activity increases in 2019. Department for Transport.
[55] New ‘Freight Portal’ launched to provide advice on operators cutting emissions (2018). Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership.
[56] Decarbonizing Logistics: Distributing Goods in a Low Carbon World (2018). Alan McKinnon. Kogan Page, London.