Future Transport: Unveiling the Road to Decarbonisation

summary

With a projected $1 trillion investment globally, including £30 billion from the UK, decarbonisation efforts promise economic benefits, enhanced efficiency, and a stronger corporate reputation. Digital Twins offer a revolutionary solution by simulating and analysing various decarbonisation scenarios, optimizing resources, and informing better decision-making.

Enterprise
6 min read

Decarbonisation has become a critical objective in the fight against climate change. As global emissions continue to rise, the need to reduce carbon footprints within infrastructure and supply chains is more urgent than ever. These sectors are significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, making their transformation essential for achieving sustainability goals. In alignment with the UK’s net zero policy by 2050 and the end of sale of petrol and diesel-fuelled cars by 2030, decarbonising these areas is imperative for a sustainable future.

Decarbonising infrastructure and supply chains not only helps mitigate climate change but also offers economic benefits, including cost savings, increased efficiency, and enhanced corporate reputation. We’ve seen small supply chain issues have a large global impact, such as the Suez Canal incident, as well as continuing climate issues affecting and increasing risks of impacts such as deep freezes, droughts and conflicts arising. 

The anticipated $1 trillion investment (globally, with the UK government committing £30 billion of domestic investment for the green industrial revolution) in decarbonisation efforts over the next two decades underscores the critical importance and vast potential of this sector, as well as looking at it with a climate-conscious lens in order to prevent future issues and disruptions. With the size of the investment alongside the possible size of the impacted populations, we can easily position this issue as the second-highest area of infrastructure investment. 

With the urgency of addressing climate change, various transport decarbonisation technologies are being explored, including battery electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, and Electric Road Systems (ERS). 

Market Failures

Current market structures often hinder effective decarbonisation efforts. Traditional methods rely heavily on fossil fuels and outdated technologies, leading to inefficiencies and higher emissions. These market inefficiencies stem from various factors:

  • Lack of Incentives: There is often insufficient motivation for companies to invest in greener technologies due to high upfront costs and long payback periods.
  • Information Asymmetry: Companies may lack access to the necessary information to make informed decisions about sustainable practices.
  • Externalities: The environmental impact of carbon emissions is not fully accounted for in the market, leading to over-reliance on carbon-intensive practices.
  • Lack of evaluation processes: Decision makers do not possess the tools to assess the potential impact of new policies before investing in their implementation.
  • Underutilisation of Live Data: Live data, which could be invaluable in making real-time decisions to optimise for sustainability, synthetic environment. Companies struggle to collect, integrate, and analyse live operational data, resulting in missed opportunities to enhance efficiency and reduce emissions.

One of the most significant challenges is the sheer number of available options and the associated uncertainties. While there are many proposed solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, none offer absolute certainty in their promised results. 

The decision-making process for adopting sustainable practices is complex and fraught with challenges. Key among these is the dominance of traditional energy sources like coal, nuclear energy, and natural gas in global electricity generation. The reliance on these primary energy sources is heavily influenced by regional natural resources, economic conditions, and historical development. In many regions, revenues from the exploitation and export of fossil fuels are critical to the economy and employment.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is another technology that, despite its potential, presents considerable challenges. Studies assessing CCS’s ability to reduce the overall environmental impact of electricity generation have shown mixed results. The energy penalty associated with CO2 capture can lead to significant efficiency reductions, potentially negating the environmental benefits.

Additionally, synthetic fuels and hydrogen are often highlighted as promising future technologies for decarboniszation. Hydrogen, in particular, could eventually replace natural gas in power and heat generation and other hard-to-decarbonisze sectors such as the chemical and metallurgical industries, as well as transportation. Its combustion has no environmental impact, and existing gas distribution infrastructure could potentially be adapted for hydrogen use. However, these technologies still face significant hurdles in terms of cost, infrastructure development, and widespread adoption.

Let’s take the electrification of road haulage, which is touted as a promising solution on the market, as an example of the challenges we’re facing and why though we have clarity on some of the key information required to move ahead, not all is readily available for us today..

The electrification of road haulage is a crucial step towards achieving global net-zero carbon targets. However, Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) face a significant challenge in this regard, as they cannot carry the necessary quantity of batteries required to make a real impact. As an alternative, electric overhead cables were being considered a viable solution. Despite their potential, the roll-out of these cables will be expensive, complex, and will necessarily need to be phased. 

To ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of this transition, it is essential to understand as many factors as possible beforehand. This necessitates comprehensive modelling and simulation to inform the roll-out decisions.

Digital Twins as a Solution

This leads us to our solution to address these uncertainties is the use of simulation and scenario generation tools that incorporate both historical, and live data. These tools can create detailed models of various decarbonisation methods allowing stakeholders to explore different scenarios and their potential outcomes. 

Digital Twins offer a promising solution to many of these challenges. By creating a virtual replica of physical assets and systems, companies can simulate and analyse different decarbonisation scenarios. This approach allows for better decision-making and optimisation of resources, ultimately leading to more effective and efficient decarbonisation efforts.

By leveraging comprehensive datasets and advanced analytics, these simulations can provide insights into the most effective strategies for reducing emissions, optimising resource use, and minimising costs. This approach not only helps in identifying the best possible solutions but also enables more informed and confident decision-making in the face of uncertainty.

In the next article, we will delve deeper into the specific technologies and methodologies involved in creating and utilising Digital Twins for Decarbonisation of Transport System. We will explore case studies and real-world applications that highlight the transformative potential of this innovative approach. Stay tuned as we uncover how Digital Twins are revolutionising the path towards a sustainable and carbon-neutral future.