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Environmentally friendly road transport services

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How to successfully plan truck journeys in a sustainable manner

Truck logistics services are used to transport a wide variety of products – and energy is required for this. The task of logistics specialists involves moving the goods and using as little energy in the process so that this is done in a way that is sustainable and resource-efficient. Adrian Barten, Project Manager at Rhenus Port Road in Duisburg, talks about current opportunities for reducing fuel consumption when operating trucks, making use of efficient delivery plans by using the right type of trailer and operating a vehicle both economically and ecologically.

The cost driver diesel fuel

Trucks accounted for 72.3 % of the total volume of goods transported in Germany in 2021. Truck logistics operators try to work as efficiently as possible in terms of energy, if only  for economic reasons, because diesel fuel costs already make up one third of the entire operating costs with trucks. ‘If we’re talking about a 40-tonne articulated vehicle, such as the ones that we use at Rhenus Port Road, the costs entailed by operating a truck for about 450 kilometres every day are about EUR 280,’ Adrian Barten explains (correct as of October 2022). In order to keep these figures as low as possible, the logistics specialist adopts various measures. Firstly, truck drivers are trained to drive their vehicles efficiently and, secondly, they are sensitised so that they pay attention to making their fuel consumption as sustainable as possible by means of assessing their telematic data. The figure that is calculated is communicated to the drivers in their vehicle in a transparent and clear way using suitable monitor systems. Alongside these initial steps, there are other opportunities for generating earnings in as sustainable a manner as possible with vehicles that are already in active service.

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Facts and figures about trucks in Germany (correct as of 2022):

  • Trucks account for approx. 73 per cent of all transport services for goods traffic.
  • Of the approx. 3.55 million trucks registered, about 3.3 million have a diesel engine.
  • More than 43,000 trucks with an electric drive train had been registered by the beginning of this year.

Alternative drive systems for the future?

Almost exclusively, Rhenus operates vehicles with the Euro 6 emissions class for its road transport services. However, for several years (Logistics People Community previously reported on this), alternative drive systems for trucks have already been playing a major role at the company when it comes to reaching its climate goals. Our affiliated company, Contargo, has already been using four completely battery-powered 44-tonne articulated vehicles for pick-up and final runs for combined traffic at Rhenus Trucking since 2019. A subsidy programme provided by the German government, which is unique in Europe, enabled Rhenus Trucking to gain approval for 27 more BEVs (battery electric vehicles) in the spring of 2022.

‘We believe that there’s not one single drive technology that’s correct at the moment and there won’t be one in the near future either. However, we know that there’s no alternative to alternative drive systems! That’s why we’re already using what’s available on the market and we’re cooperating closely with major OEMs as a project and pilot partner. This means that we’re testing and trying out new vehicle models with alternative drive systems in field trials in order to play a leading role as a logistics specialist. We want to gain our own experience by doing this, share what we’ve learnt, test various fields of application and at the same time transport goods on the roads in a more efficient and climate-friendly manner,’ Barten reports. The Rhenus Group will be one of two partners, for example, which will test the battery-powered eActros LongHaul from Daimler in real-life long-distance transport operations from 2023 onwards. This is the first completely electric articulated truck that Daimler Truck has developed. It will be used in many different business units and on various routes in order to be able to gain as much varied experience as possible. The aim is to test the vehicle’s functionality and suitability for use in everyday operations when transporting maritime containers or with a tarpaulin-sided trailer, for example. The logistics specialist will also be using a hydrogen-powered truck as a field trial partner of MAN Truck & Bus as part of the ‘Bavarian Fleet’ project from 2024 onwards and will test the vehicle in real-life operations for one year.

Rhenus Logistics Truck

Empty journeys are a climate and profit margin killer

It is true that alternative drive systems are more environmentally friendly than vehicles with traditional power trains, but they do not automatically solve one central problem: empty journeys. According to statistics provided by the Federal Motor Transport Authority, German trucks completed approx. 409 million journeys when transporting goods in 2021 – and more than 153 million of these were empty trips – i.e. journeys without any goods on board. This corresponds to a quota of 37 per cent. Empty journeys are one result of flows of goods which are based on varying and unevenly distributed levels of demand. That is to say, goods are frequently delivered to warehouse and transshipment points and it is then hard for schedulers to find loads for the return trip. The reasons for this problem are usually geographical/structural. In order to load new goods, the truck normally has to travel along a particular route without any load on board. Small and medium-sized companies are particularly forced to contend with empty or half-empty vehicles. This problem costs time and money, and pollutes the environment unnecessarily. Fewer empty journeys therefore mean greater benefits because it is possible to complete more transport operations on the same route while keeping costs constant and without affecting fuel consumption.

Vehicle equipment and scheduling as keys to success

In addition to the correct choice of drive technology and having a suitable type of trailer, optimal planning of the logistical workflows is a crucial factor for smooth and energy-efficient logistics. Adrian Barten explains how Rhenus Port Road implements this method. ‘If logistics trips cannot be planned efficiently, we try to combine the most diverse types of loads with our own vehicle fleet. Trips cannot always be paired – that is to say, the requirements at the unloading point aren’t always the same as those at the new loading point. We’re therefore not only using different drive technologies to transport our goods, but also a wide variety of different types of trailers.’

Schedulers in particular make an important contribution to saving CO2 emissions. One major part of this involves sensibly combining particular journeys for the relevant vehicles that are available in order to keep the proportion of kilometres travelled by empty trucks as low as possible. By using digitalisation and optimising the TMS systems daily, logistics specialists will be able to save a huge amount of CO2 emissions in future too.

Adrian Barten
„By using flexible types of trailers, we can minimise the proportion of empty journeys travelled by trucks and our road operations are therefore more eco-friendly overall.“
Adrian Barten | Project Manager at Rhenus Port Road

No two trailers are the same

Special types of trailers also play their part in making road goods transport more environmentally friendly. If different kinds of loads are combined on one trailer, for example, this reduces the proportion of kilometres driven by the vehicle when empty and trucks can then be used more economically and more efficiently. Rhenus Port Road is already adopting this approach now – e.g. with the trailers used by Wijnands Bulk Care and Holz-Reimann, which have both been newly acquired by the Rhenus Group over the past 12 months.

Holz Reimann truck to transport timber

Holz-Reimann currently uses special Euroflat trucks. Their unique selling point is that they look like standard round timber trucks with stakes and can therefore be used to transport timber (see photo). However, if the side doors are put in place and mounted, cargo space is provided into which pellets or wood chips can be filled, for example.

As a result, the vehicle is an ideal means of transport for bulk goods, which can then be unloaded using the tipping function (see photo).

Holz Reimann truck unloading via tipping function

‘In actual practice, using the Euroflat trucks means that the vehicle can supply wood-processing industrial sites with timber and can then transport pellets or sawmill by-products on the return journey. As a result, we can keep the share of unladen kilometres very low and use vehicles in a sensible way both economically and ecologically,’ says Adrian Barten, explaining the flexible ways that the vehicles can be used.

Thanks to the ‘Euro Flat’ vehicle specification that is used at Holz-Reimann, it is currently possible to save 600,000 unladen kilometres every year as planning the trips and orders can be ideally coordinated with the vehicle combination. At present, this corresponds to saving 477 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

Wijnands truck

The combination of trailers at Wijnands Bulk Care illustrates a different practical example. The company exclusively uses tipper bodies, which are equipped with a refrigeration unit and also have a recess for coils. As a result, it is possible to load the vehicles with different types of goods. ‘In practice, this normally means that most of the vehicles transport coils from the Benelux countries to Germany in the morning and carry bulk goods for the construction industry or refrigerated, animal by-products for gelatine production on the return journey to the Benelux nations. This combination means that the vehicles can be used in very different ways, regardless of the types of goods that are being transported – and all this with a low proportion of kilometres travelled when the vehicle is unladen.’

Coil recess and bulk cargo

The most frequent type of trailer used by the Port Road division is the so-called walking floor or sliding floor truck, which is used for all kinds of bulk cargo. Thanks to the moving floor, it is possible to transport bulk cargo such as wood chips or sawdust or bulk cargo from the recycling, agricultural and steel industries. One special model of this trailer also has a side door, which also makes it possible to load wide goods that cannot be taken apart. Loading and unloading can take place either by means of a forklift from the side or a crane from above as the trailer has no cross members. By using this kind of trailer, logistics specialists such as Rhenus Port Road are less dependent on the types of bulk cargo since the trailer can also be loaded with other types of goods, e.g. palleted cargo. Thanks to this kind of combination of trailers, it is also possible to transport steel mats, which are used in the construction industry, for example.

Side door trailer

Another combination which is not frequently encountered is the sliding floor trailer with a Joloda rail system. This makes it possible to lift heavy paper rolls onto the cargo space, and then move them to the correct position inside the vehicle on the Joloda rail by means of leverage where they are properly secured. In addition to transporting paper rolls, the trailer can be utilised for other goods, e.g. bulk cargo. This makes it an extremely flexible combination and can prevent many kilometres of empty travel. For example, this combination of trailers makes it possible to initially supply a paper mill with wood chips for production and then directly transport finished paper rolls on the return journey.

Lift heavy paper rolls on to the cargo space

Opportunities offered by digitalisation

However, how does a logistics specialist discover which routes trigger empty journeys? It is often the case, particularly with large companies, that the individual journeys and trips are not managed by a general transport management system, but are only administered by the particular programmes that are used in individual departments. The solution here is to digitalise operations. Enormous amounts of data occur in the entire logistics sector. If used correctly, they offer huge potential both for freight forwarding companies and logistics specialists when it comes to reducing the number of empty journeys even further with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Those who use logistics data not only create improved networking for truck drivers and shippers, but can also control all the important stages in the logistics chain in detail. Digital Tracking & Tracing, which is a kind of tracking system for consignments, makes it possible, for example, to gather real-time information such as the payload capacity, arrival times or any delays involving the vehicles. The trucks are equipped with a GPS tracker so that their location is clear at all times. The journeys or departures and trips can then be planned even more effectively.

Conclusion: It all comes down to the mix!

Logistics specialists can save resources in their processes and in their truck logistics operations for road transport by ideally combining various opportunities. Even if there are already efforts to switch goods transport services to other means of transport which create fewer emissions, e.g. rail or inland waterway services, truck logistics will continue to be extremely important during the next few years. One example of this switch is the fact that most goods are transported by truck – instead of on water – because of the current low water levels in European waterways (correct as of August 2022). In light of this, it is particularly important for logistics specialists to enhance their services in a sustainable and forward-looking way in order to be competitive in future. RHENUS Port Road is able to offer individual and customised services with all the means of transport mentioned here.

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