Research centre boosts road freight’s delivery of carbon cuts

Waitrose and John Lewis lorries with new branding

Quantities of carbon emitted by freight vehicles could be cut significantly thanks to breakthroughs at the EPSRC-funded Centre for Sustainable Road Freight.

Established in 2012, this collaboration between the University of Cambridge, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Westminster is working closely with leading road hauliers and other companies with big road freight operations to help put the sector on a zero-carbon trajectory.

Backed by £10.6 million of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) support supplemented by funding from Innovate UK and industry partners, the centre has already successfully achieved innovations.

App helps drive up more fuel-efficiently

A smartphone app for freight drivers was developed and tested in full collaboration with a major Logistics Service Provider.

Based on vehicle speed, weight, position and terrain, the app issues alerts to ‘prepare to coast’ and then an advisory to ‘start coasting’ for normal terrain and downhill coasting opportunities, and where there are significant opportunities to coast to roundabouts and intersections. This helps the driver maximise fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

Trial data indicates a potential improvement in fuel efficiency of seven to 10%. Widescale rollout is planned.

Trailer aerodynamics improved, making lorries less fuel-hungry

Design modifications were made to lorry trailers to reduce drag and improve airflow.

The centre has, for instance, collaborated with John Lewis Partnership on a project to modify the rear end of trailers and the company has incorporated the new design into its fleet.

This boost to aerodynamics leads to a reduction in fuel use and carbon emissions of around 7% when cruising.

Software helps hauliers optimise their carbon-cutting decisions

A free web-based decision support tool was designed to enable firms to model the environmental and financial impacts of introducing carbon-cutting measures such as new fuel-saving devices, new management practices or the adoption of electric vehicles.

Reports and briefing materials

As well as ground-breaking research and the development of real-world tools and technologies, the centre produces reports and briefing materials that form key input to policymaking at regional, national and international level.

In 2019, heavy goods and light duty vehicles accounted for a total of 8.5% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, making the freight sector a key target in the government’s drive for net zero emissions by 2050.

Acting as a catalyst

Kedar Pandya, EPSRC Director for Cross-Council Programmes, says:

Cutting carbon emissions in a sector that is essential to modern living is always going to require partnership and collaboration. Small savings at scale can have significant impacts and through funding the EPSRC Centre for Sustainable Road Freight we are acting as a catalyst between the academic and business communities.

The tools and relationships created through these partnerships are reaping rewards that benefit all, both in terms of carbon savings, cost reductions and a healthier environment.

Sharing knowledge

Justin Laney, Fleet Manager at John Lewis Partnership and Chairman of the centre’s industrial consortium, says:

Working with the Centre is hugely helpful. Not only is it great to share knowledge, on a practical level it helps us understand which carbon-cutting measures might work, and what the challenges of introducing them would be.

In particular, the Centre’s input is invaluable in helping us decide how to allocate resources to technology trials.


The Fuel Program Manager at the Logistics Service Provider says:

For our business, reductions in carbon and reductions in operating costs need to go hand in hand.

Our relationship with the Centre has helped us achieve significant marginal gains with regard to cutting our fuel costs while giving a clear demonstration to our customers and employees of our commitment to environmentally friendly road freight operations. We look forward to the continued collaboration.

Stable support

Professor David Cebon, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, says:

The stable support that EPSRC has provided over the past decade has been crucial to our ability to adopt both a long-term and a short-term perspective on the carbon-related opportunities and challenges facing the road freight sector.

Further information

Find out more about the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight.

Other partners include:

  • Denby
  • Goodyear
  • Logistics UK
  • Optrak
  • Sainsbury’s
  • SDC Trailers
  • Tesco
  • Transdek
  • Value Chain Lab
  • Volvo

Source of data on UK road freight carbon emissions: ‘Final UK greenhouse gas statistics: 1990 to 2019’ (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy).

Heavy goods vehicles are defined as commercial vehicles that weigh over 3.5 tonnes.

Light duty vehicles are defined as commercial vehicles that weigh less than 3.5 tonnes.

Top image:  Credit: John Lewis Partnership

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