Can Emissions Be Reduced With Longer HGV’s?


By: David Wright

For many years, high emission levels occurring on UK highways have been blamed on HGV’s. This claim is well placed because HGV’s do seem to be the main culprit. Because of the billions of miles traveled globally each day, the emissions produced by HGV’s is even higher than that of automobiles, even though there are more cars on highways than HGV’s. But it doesn’t have to be that way because there are ways to reduce the amount of air pollution produced by HGV’s.

One viable solution to this problem has been created by Tesla and Cummins in the form of electric HGV’s. While this solution shows promise, currently the large investment cost required may be prohibitive for smaller HGV companies because proper charging infrastructure necessary for keeping electric HGV’s on the road are not available across the country.

Larger companies may be more willing to invest in electric HGV’s because they have the capital necessary to install charging stations for their own use, but until smaller companies are able to get on board as well, the problem with emissions will remain. As a result, the UK government has come up with another solution until electric HGV’s become a more viable option.

How Will This Work?

The solution government has come up with is quite simple – longer lorries and trailers. The logic behind this idea is rather simple. The new trailer size now recommended by the Government for HGV’s is 2 metres longer than what the Government has allowed on highways previously. When HGV’s use these longer trailers, they have an increased capacity that allows them to carry an additional two more rows of pallets or three extra rows of goods cages. Because they can now carry more product, fewer trips will be necessary for transporting the same amount of product, meaning there will be lower emissions as a result.

If all HGV’s began using these longer trailers, it is estimated that current emissions could be reduced by as much as 3000 tonnes over 10 years. This idea does have its drawbacks, however. This additional vehicle length comes with safety concerns, primarily because of the tight corners and narrow highways common throughout England that already cause trouble for HGV’s now.

Still, it is an idea that has merit, and the only way to know for sure whether these concerns are legitimate is through testing, which is currently occurring. Approximately 1,800 longer length HGV’s are in operation on UK highways currently during this testing phase, with plans to add even more in 2018 during the mandated five-year testing phase.

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Electric HGV Impact

Whether or not the plan becomes fully implemented may depend on how quickly Tesla’s electric HGV’s become a viable option. What makes electric vehicles so attractive for emissions reduction is the fact that there is no fuel being burned like in standard vehicle motors. While recharging electric motors via electricity from the grid may result in some emissions production, the electric motors themselves give off zero emissions. Even when grid emissions that occur as a result of recharging are taken into account, electric vehicles are still a better solution for reducing emissions than using longer trailers. As a short-term solution, the longer trailer idea is a good one, but long-term the better solution is without a doubt just around the corner in the form of electric HGV’s.

Testing will most likely show that these longer trailers present more problems than they solve, and ultimately, even if this idea is implemented, far too much air pollution will still be produced. Still, this may be the best option available for several years, so to accommodate for the potential problems longer trailers present, it may be necessary for drivers to go through training programs to become better able to handle these bigger and longer vehicles.