Dirty Vans: The pivotal barrier to decarbonised urban areas 

  • Decarbonising commercial vehicles is crucial for cleaner urban areas and public health.
  • Clean Air Zones and industry initiatives, like London’s ULEZ, reduce air pollutants effectively.
  • Upcycled commercial vehicles, like those developed by Clipper, offer a cost-effective and eco-friendly solution for decarbonisation in urban centres.

Decarbonising commercial fleets could revolutionize our city centres for good, but how close are we to achieving this goal?

To hit our decarbonisation goals, and to ensure cleaner, safer, and happier urban areas, the commercial fleet sector needs to change rapidly.  Community transport, patient transport, service vehicles, engineering vehicles, taxis and last-mile delivery vehicles all operate in and out of urban centres on a daily basis.

An estimated 6 million commercial internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will need to become electric in the next decade in the UK alone. That process could generate up to 200 million tonnes of carbon and cost billions. 

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Projections from the World Economic Forum indicate that the demand for last-mile deliveries alone will grow by 78% by 2030, leading to 36% more delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities. That means that “without intervention, these emissions could reach 25 million tons of CO2 emitted annually by 2030”.

According to the European Commission, urban areas generate around 23% of all transport greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a substantial target for global decarbonisation efforts. 

How do we cut these emissions?

Clean Air Zones (CAZs) emerge as a pivotal solution. The expansion of Ultra-Low Emissions Zones (ULEZ) in London highlights the profound impact of reduced air pollution. 

By enforcing costs and outright bans on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, CAZs are strategically designed to combat the harmful effects of pollutants like Nitrogen Oxides. These zones, exemplified by London’s ULEZ, are transformative.

By targeting the most polluting vehicles, CAZs curtail NO2 concentration levels, markedly improving air quality. Birmingham, after implementing a CAZ in 2021, saw a substantial 13% drop in NO2 levels within six months. Recently, we even heard news that Stockholm plans to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles from the city centre by 2025.

The logistics industry is embracing transformative measures. 

Transport and logistics companies are setting ambitious net-zero targets, committing to reducing their carbon footprints significantly. These initiatives are not mere corporate gestures but strategic responses to a world increasingly cognizant of environmental responsibilities.

Efforts to decarbonise resonate with international accords like the Paris Agreement, emphasizing the pivotal role of logistics in achieving global climate targets. By optimizing routes, adopting green technologies, and investing in renewable energy sources, the sector is forging a path toward a sustainable future. 

Technology emerges as a powerful ally in this endeavour. 

Electric vehicles are the obvious choice to assist in the decarbonisation of urban areas. Electrified deliveries offer the obvious benefits of clean, quiet, pollutant-free transportation. Couple cutting-edge EVs with innovative micro-mobility solutions such as ecargo bikes, and city centres will experience a dramatic improvement in air quality. 

Despite the necessity for electric delivery solutions, there are still significant barriers in place which halt many companies in their tracks. Chiefly, the upfront cost of buying new EVs for their fleets. 

Considering the high demand, and relatively low supply, a new EV fit for urban deliveries will cost a company an average of £60,000. What’s more, many of these EVs come up to a six-month lead time. In the case of cities such as Stockholm, currently staring down the barrel of a total ban on traditional fuels, these obstacles could prove extremely troubling. 

Aside from time and cost constraints, the production of a new EV could release up to 50 tonnes of carbon during the process. Not to mention the waste involved in the discarded petrol and diesel vehicles we will no longer accept in our cities. 

So, what’s the solution?

Thankfully, there is still plenty of hope. Innovative emobility provider, Clipper, has developed an ingenious technique to upcycle old petrol and diesel vans into modern, efficient EVs. 

Clipper’s approach takes just one week to convert an ICE van into an electrified delivery vehicle. These rapidly upcycled vans cost £25,000, and that’s before any grants or carbon credits are applied. For fleet operators this is typically over £10k reduction. In some cities could be as much as 100% being funded from grants and carbon credits making the EV free once they’re completed, eliminating the cost concerns of new EVs. What’s more, the upcycled vans are completed with a carbon price tag of just 10 tonnes, a marked improvement on the 50 tonnes of a new EV. This is largely thanks to the upcycling of the vehicle chassis and body, as well as use of 3D printing, and using locally sourced batteries wherever possible.

Could upcycling be the answer to cleaner, happier, and safer urban areas? Using this approach, we could save millions of ICE vans from the scrap heap, giving them a new lease of life in the modern era. Not to mention, upcycling creates hundreds of new jobs in the industry. 

Will we see upcycled vans in cities across the world?

Clipper is currently undergoing a round of funding to help maximise their potential and spread these upcycled EVs far and wide. They intend to raise £2 million, of which they have already secured £400,000 through government funding, new investors and private partnerships. 

With the necessary funding in the most innovative areas, we can hit, and exceed, our climate deadlines. City centres could be revolutionized as clean, relaxed, healthy environments without the substantial carbon impact of destroying millions of ICE vans. 

You can read all about Clipper’s upcycling revolution, and their call for funding, here.

If you’d like to get involved, reach out to Oliver Needham directly today – Oliver@clipperautomotive.co.uk

Decarbonising logistics weaves together environmental stewardship and improved public health. As cities grapple with the challenges of burgeoning populations and pollution, the logistics sector stands as a beacon of hope. Through concerted efforts, innovative technologies, and unwavering commitment, this industry has the real potential to deliver on the promise of cleaner, breathable urban air for all.

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