If you want more information on this opportunity or if you are an inventor, a university tech transfer office, a VC or indeed you just want to be part of our innovation community, we would love to talk with you.

Contact Us

Effective Strategies for Decarbonising Road Freight and Reducing Emissions


In the USA, the transportation sector is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions.  Most of these emissions (58%) are from light-duty vehicles, but medium and heavy-duty vehicles account for 23% of emissions.  There is a similar situation in the UK where most freight is moved on trucks, and in 2021, this sector produced 20% of the UK’s transport greenhouse gas emissions.  Therefore the route to Net Zero has to include plans for decarbonising road freight.


Biofuel technologies

There are now technologies for producing a range of low carbon, liquid fuels as alternatives to petroleum-derived diesel. These alternative fuels include the commercial fuel, biodiesel, which is composed of fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) and is generated from vegetable oils and animal fats by transesterification with methanol.  A second low carbon fuel is renewable diesel, also known as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), that is chemically identical to fossil diesel and so is called a “drop-in” fuel. It is produced from similar oil and fat feedstocks to biodiesel.

Existing diesel trucks can switch to run on blends of fossil diesel and biodiesel or renewable diesel, or they can run on 100% renewable diesel. One of the main benefits of these alternative fuels is that their use requires no modification to the truck’s engine and results in an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions of 65-90% depending on the brand of fuel used.

Companies adopting biofuels to lower CO2 emissions

Several UK companies have already adopted biofuels as a means to lower their CO2 emissions. McGregor Logistics Ltd, a haulage, warehousing and distribution firm has switched to B30, a blend of 70% fossil diesel and 30% biodiesel, from Argent Energy.  McGregor operate a bunkered fuelling system and have not experienced any operational or engine issues with their fleet of vans and articulated trucks from switching to B30.  In 2023, Travis Perkins PLC a UK building materials distributor, switched 164 HGVs and 55 light commercial vehicles (LCVs) in their fleet to using 100% HVO.

Manufacture of biofuels is impacted by government subsidies and trading rules

Technologies for manufacturing biofuels have been developed in countries e.g., USA and Europe, where there has been the chemical engineering expertise and investment to tackle the huge challenge of manufacturing a commodity product to compete with fossil diesel.  UK companies producing biodiesel are struggling for a variety of reasons.  Argent Energy who started manufacturing biodiesel in 2005, announced in March this year they would be closing their biodiesel plant in Motherwell, Scotland (but not their European site), citing a number of commercial problems.  These included competition from imported Chinese biodiesel that receives state subsidies, removal by the HMRC of import taxes on imported biodiesel and changes to trading rules after Brexit that have allowed more imports of US-made renewable diesel, subsidised by the US government.  Also, difficulties in importing tallow, the main feedstock for Argent’s biodiesel process, have compounded the problem.

Potential to use ethanol as a low carbon liquid fuel

Ethanol (bioethanol) is another alternative fuel.  It can be produced by fermentation processes using both first generation feedstocks, mainly agricultural crops e.g., maize, as well as second generation feedstocks that are non-food sources of biomass e.g., lignocellulosic wastes.  One of the main theoretical benefits of switching to ethanol would be the low levels of CO2 produced on combustion (0.3 g CO2 / MJ energy for ethanol vs 73g/MJ for diesel).  Ethanol is not currently blended into commercial diesel, as mixtures of the two have a much lower flash point than pure diesel, and so have additional safety risks.

Modifying combustion engines to use ethanol

Ethanol’s attractiveness as a potential fuel for heavy goods vehicles has stimulated two companies to modify combustion engines to allow them to burn the fuel.  ClearFlame’s technology allows diesel engines to operate on 100% plant-based ethanol (or methanol).  Existing engines can be modified which they claim is “the fastest and lowest cost path to decarbonization for hard-to-electrify, heavy-duty industries without fundamentally changing how engines perform”.  The reduction in CO2 emissions is around 45%. MayMaan, another US company, has invented a new combustion engine. Their AquaStroke technology takes advantage of pressure generated by steam that is created on burning a fuel mix of 70% water and 30% ethanol (or methanol).  They are targeting power generation initially, but say their technology is also applicable to transport.

Battery electric vehicles

To drive the reduction in CO2 emissions below the 65% possible with biofuels, trucks will need to be electrified. But low CO2 emissions for battery electric vehicles requires that the electricity used to recharge the batteries is not generated from fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal). Life cycle analysis by the American Transportation Research Institute shows that total CO2 emissions for battery electric vehicles (trucks) would currently be higher than for trucks run on renewable diesel, because of the way electricity is generated in the USA. The charging infrastructure for electric trucks also needs to be installed. Vehicle batteries are heavy and this will affect the cargo capacity of a truck. But the use of a smaller battery would restrict the range over which a truck could travel and necessitate more frequent battery recharging and result in a lower battery lifetime. Ultimately more trucks will be needed to compensate for the three or so hours needed to recharge each battery. The pathway to electrifying road freight is costly and complicated.

Biofuels or electrification?

Which way will markets go? Low carbon fuels have the big advantage that switching to them results in an immediate reduction in Scope 1 and Scope 3 GHG emissions. But some organisations are predicting that current sources of biomass will be insufficient to make all the biofuels needed. That is despite moving away from producing biofuels from food and feed crops and switching to wastes including agricultural residues, ligno-cellulosic material and waste cooking oil and animal fats.

Add to this the green subsidies given by different regional governments and it becomes hard to predict how markets will develop. Will hydrogen be the final solution? As the G7 recently commented in their Statement on Biofuels, “during the transition, the role of each technology will vary over time and vary by country, as a reflection of its own resources, national context and sustainable development priorities”.


Teasing out solutions for individual companies is where Strategic Allies Ltd can help, whether it is finding new combustion engine technologies or suppliers of biofuels.  As an Open Innovation consultancy company, Strategic Allies has extensive experience in the global search for innovative technologies, solutions, products, strategic alliances and other new business generating opportunities across all sectors. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you to explore and exploit new technologies and/or offer opportunities to differentiate your offerings, please contact John Allies at john@strategicallies.co.uk





  1. Renewable Diesel – A Catalyst for Decarbonization. American Transportation Research Institute, April 2024. https://truckingresearch.org/2024/04/new-atri-research-evaluates-renewable-diesel-as-an-alternative-pathway-to-decarbonization/
  2. Infrastructure for zero emission heavy goods vehicles and coaches. https://www.gov.uk/government/calls-for-evidence/infrastructure-for-zero-emission-heavy-goods-vehicles-and-coaches/infrastructure-for-zero-emission-heavy-goods-vehicles-and-coaches
  3. The Renewable Fuels Guide. Zemo Partnership, July 2023. https://www.zemo.org.uk/assets/reports/Renewable%20Fuels%20Guide%202023.pdf
  4. Argent Energy Proposes to end Production at its Biodiesel Plant in Scotland, Press release 25 March 2024. https://www.argentenergy.com/news/argent-energy-proposes-to-end-production-at-its-biodiesel-plant-in-scotland/
  5. The Truth About Ethanol and Carbon Emissions, Renewable Fuels Association, October 4, 2022 https://ethanolrfa.org/media-and-news/category/blog/article/2022/10/the-truth-about-ethanol-and-carbon-emissions