Keep on truckin’: Government touts £200m fund to kick-start zero emission trucks rollout

Once seen as a major challenge, the decarbonisation of heavy trucks is now shifting up gear, with the government this week confirming plans to ensure all new heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) produce zero emissions by 2040, backed by GBP200m of funding to kick-start a wave of demonstration projects over the next three years. Announced yesterday, the government said the GBP200m of funding would be injected into an “extensive” zero emission road freight demonstrator programme starting later this year, which will support development competitions for both battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell truck technologies. Demonstrator projects supported through the three-year programme could result in hundreds more zero emission HGVs hitting UK roads, according to the Department for Transport (DfT).

The government said the technology had the potential to reduce costs for haulage, freight, and logistics companies, while also slashing carbon emissions, improving air quality, and reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels. Moreover, the government also confirmed plans to phase-out sales of fossil fuel HGVs by 2040 at the latest, with sales of lighter fossil fuel trucks weighing 26 tonnes and under set to come to an end five years earlier in 2035. The government said ending the sale of new, non-zero emission HGVs before 2040 was “vital if we are to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and achieve net zero”.

A consultation over potential exemptions to the 2035 phase out date was also launched yesterday, giving industry until 22 July to respond, although DfT said it was “confident” zero emission technologies would meet the majority of use cases for such HGVs by 2035. Transport Minister Trudy Harrison said the HGV funding and fossil fuel phase-out plans could lead to Britain operating the world’s largest fleet of zero emission trucks in the coming years. “Our road freight industry is one of the most efficient in the world and contributes over GBP13bn to the UK economy each year,” she said. “But we must accelerate our journey towards our net zero goals, and we’re committed to leading the way globally on zero emission road vehicles.

Our ambitious plans will continue to ensure food is stocked on the shelves and goods are supplied, while eliminating fossil fuels from HGVs and making our freight sector green for good.”  The demonstrator funding is aimed at helping identify which zero emission technologies are best suited to the heaviest road vehicles in the UK, and includes an open call for manufacturers, energy suppliers, and infrastructure operators to showcase their green technologies on UK roads. It follows a GBP20m competition run last year by the DfT alongside Innovate UK, which saw public sector organisations such as the NHS and various local authorities trial 20 battery electric HGVs manufactured by Leyland Trucks, enabling real-world testing and data gathering.

Michelle Gardner, acting deputy director for public policy at industry body Logistics UK, welcomed the funding and consultation, but stressed the need for clarity over the phase-out dates for fossil fuel vehicles in order to provide time for firms to prepare. “Logistics businesses are committed to decarbonising their operations, but to ensure a smooth transition, they need clarity on the path to zero tailpipe emission HGVs,” she said. “The trials announced today will play a crucial role in identifying the right technological solutions to help enable this. “Given the breadth of the vehicles used across the logistics sector, and scale of innovation required to reach net zero, Logistics UK is also pleased that government has launched a consultation to identify potential exemptions to the 2035 phase out date.”

The announcements underscore rapidly growing momentum in the fledgling zero emission truck market, an area of road transport that only a few years ago was still seen as a major decarbonisation challenge. For example, separately Volvo Trucks this week announced a major deal with Deutsche Post DHL Group that will see the latter gradually rollout 44 new electric trucks across its European fleet, in a move expected to deliver significant fuel, cost, and carbon savings for the logistics giant. The first few Volvo FE and FL trucks have already been ordered, with DHL Parcel UK set use six of the vehicles for package deliveries in urban environments and DHL Freight taking another two, in a move expected to save 600 tonnes of CO2 and almost 225,000 litres of diesel fuel.

Although the rollout is expected to begin with regional routes in the UK, electric trucks for longer routes are also included in the scope of the deal. DHL said its decision to order the trucks had been informed by its “positive experience” trialling an electric Volvo HGV in London over the past year. “We are committed to meet growing customer demand for green and sustainable solutions and achieve our long-term goal of net zero emissions by 2050,” said Pablo Ciano, executive vice president for corporate development at Deutsche Post DHL Group. “As a logistics service provider, the conversion of our vehicle fleet is an important lever to help us avoid CO2 emissions on the road as well.

Several of our divisions will thus benefit from this agreement with Volvo Trucks.” In further related news this week, Shell announced it is planning to ramp up its installation of public electric vehicle (EV) charge points over the remainder of the decade with a goal to reach 100,000 in the UK by 2030. The oil and gas giant said reaching that goal would ensure 90 per cent of UK drivers would be within a 10-minute journey of a Shell rapid charger by the end of the decade, with 11,000 earmarked for places such as petrol station forecourts and supermarkets, and the remainder set to be used for on-street charging.

The move comes in addition to Shell’s ambitions to have installed around 500,000 chargers at private properties such as homes and workplaces by 2030, it said. Globally, Shell aims to operate 2.5 million EV charge points by 2030, as part of its commitment to achieving net zero by 2050. “Whether at home, at work or on the go, we want to give drivers charging options so that more can switch to an EV,” said Shell’s UK country chair David Bunch. “Access to public charging needs to be made available to everyone, no matter where you live.”

The oil and gas giant is under increasing pressure to ramp up its investment in the UK in the wake of the record profits that have resulted from surging global fossil fuel prices triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine, with the government reportedly now considering a potential windfall tax on firms in the sector.

But Bunch highlighted the firm’s expansion of its EV charging network as a sign of its commitment to investing GBP25bn in UK infrastructure over the next decade, of which it claims 75 per cent is ringfenced for zero carbon projects. “This is a huge investment in the UK energy system of the future,” he said.