In studies funded by the Nordic Energy Research project Shift and the Swedish Transport Agency, researchers at IVL Swedish Environmental Institute and DTU, the Technical University of Denmark, have investigated low-carbon technology-based alternatives for on-road freight transport and the likelihood of these becoming reality in the Nordic region by 2030 and 2045/50, respectively.

The studies have evaluated different scenario settings and which solutions might be suitable for different types of freight distribution. The alternatives for on-road freight transport include hybrid and battery-powered electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles, vehicles powered by biofuels or electrofuels as well as electric road systems.

Biofuel usage can be ramped up comparatively quickly, but the global resource base is limited. An electric vehicle breakthrough is imminent, although it is difficult to foresee which solutions will come to dominate the different transport segments. Hydrogen and electrofuels may represent alternatives in the longer term, but here the trend is more uncertain.

Key findings

• It is possible to drastically reduce Nordic transport GHG emissions to 2050 but strong and immediate actions are required.
• Biofuels are the easiest and fastest way to reduce the climate impact of on-road freight distribution. Globally, however, there is a considerable yet limited amount of sustainable biomass resources and demand for these is on the rise in other sectors.
• A large share of on-road freight transports will be electrified. So far, in particular battery electric vehicles for local distribution, are developed and implemented in the Nordic region. But also electric roads might become a large-scale option. In the longer term, fuel cell vehicles in certain regions and niches may also grow to great importance.
• Decarbonizing Nordic freight transport will require large amounts of low-carbon fuels and electricity. In the mid-term for on-road freight mainly in the form of biofuels while in the long-term also through electrified options and/or hydrogen. All these options need policy support.
• Actors involved in vehicle manufacture, fuels production, electricity distribution, service delivery and aftermarket platforms are interdependent. A host of new collaborations and standards are needed to support a transition to climate-neutral vehicles.
• Measures supporting technological transformation and fossil-free freight transport must be implemented across the Nordic region.
• A better understanding of stakeholder preferences may improve the design and implementation of policies.