Electric, alternative fuels and mode shift

LERS members are continuously trialling and deploying alternatively fuelled vehicles and technologies, despite the various barriers around lack of refuelling infrastructure and significantly higher purchase prices of the vehicles. It is through these trials that a suitable alternative to the standard diesel engine will be identified.

Alternatives for Light Commercial Vehicles

Observations – There are a number of alternatives available on the market for light commercial vehicles including that could provide operators with an alternative to diesel and petrol engines.

Options include;

Electricity (Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) – pure electric that uses chemical energy stored in rechargeable battery packs

Range Extended Vehicle (REV) –  a battery electric vehicle that includes an auxiliary power unit, the range extender drives and electric generator which charges the battery and supplies the electric motor with electricity.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) – This is a combination of battery which can be plugged in and charged up with a petrol or diesel engine which acts as a range extender for longer distances

Hydrogen (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) – Fuel Cells  generate power using hydrogen fuel to generate electricity to drive the vehicle

Natural gas –  in the forms of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and its biogenic equivalent biomethane

Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) – including its biogenic equivalent bioLPG

However, there are still many barriers that are preventing the uptake of alternatively fuelled vans. Some Logistics UK members have reported a lead time of 9 months for commercial Electric Vehicles from original manufacturers, some operators are investing in converting existing petrol or diesel vehicles to overcome this. There are also very few second hand commercial vehicles due to high vehicle reliability and lengthy returns on investment. The outright purchase cost of alternatively powered vans is significantly higher than their diesel counterparts, e.g. Renault master diesel prices start at £26,350, the fully electric version cost over double, prices start at £57,300. 

There is also concern over the range and lack of charging infrastructure. Operators who have a back to depot model would need to invest in infrastructure at their depot which could also come with the additional high cost of upgrading the grid. If an operator takes their van home, and has no access to an off-road parking space they would not have access to a charge point.

Verdict – Full electric or electric hybrid will be the most feasible option for Lighter Commercial Vehicles, as the challenges listed above are addressed.
Heavy Commercial Vehicles

The heavier vehicles in our sector prove an even greater challenge, due to their increased weight, they require a greater amount of power. With the current electric technology available, a 44 tonne truck would need a 20 tonne battery which is the entire payload of the vehicle and is unfeasible. By 2040-2050 we anticipate that as battery technology develops and improves, the majority of vehicles will be electric, whether powered by overhead cables or sufficient expenditure increased in battery capacity. However, currently we are a long way off from this,  below we have discussed some other options and their suitability at bridging the gap between diesel and electric. 


There are already some dedicated gas trucks available on the market and these vehicles have some real potential to achieve notable savings, particularly in trunking operations. The results of the governments gas truck trial are due in autumn this year and we are hopeful the results will provide further certainty on their environmental benefits. ​ Any updates will be posted on this site.

Verdict – Is expected to be best suited to trunking operations

Sustainable gas options

Biodiesel and biomethane are more sustainable gas options and are much cleaner than CNG or LNG, however the main concern here is the high level of demand for a limited supply.  The entire energy system has been asked to decarbonise, and there is already a high demand for bio gas for heating and power in residential homes, meaning there may not be enough to support the transport sector as well. Read more in our case study here.

Verdict – Have a higher degree of environmental benefit however may only provide an alternative for some operations due to limited supply



Hydrogen is considered by some to be the main contender for heavy freight, it can be used in a fuel cell and the emissions from the vehicle are water vapor. However, the carbon footprint of producing hydrogen is significant depending on the method used. Steam Methane Reform process is able to produce large amounts of hydrogen, however it requires a separate process to capture the carbon produced. If a process is developed which achieves this or enables us to produce hydrogen with a greener process then this could be a game changer. Work is already being done to see if hydrogen can be used in heating residential houses, and the outcome of this work could determine the future of hydrogen for trucks. 

Verdict – Hydrogen is zero emission from the tailpipe and there are options available now, however due to the high energy intensity we are unsure of its role long term in the mass market.


​Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)

A Hybrid Electric Vehicle combines a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) system with an electric propulsion system. This option provides potential carbon savings as well as being zero emission capable in bad air quality areas.

Verdict –  Could act as a bridging technology on the journey to full electrification, especially in urban operations.  

Mode shift

Where possible, LERS members are reducing their road miles by utilising modal shift in their operations. Transporting goods by rail and water significantly reduces HGV road miles, with every freight train able to carry the same amount as up to 60 HGVs. On average a gallon of fuel will move a tonne of goods 246 miles on the railway compared to 88 miles by road. Rail freight can deliver substantial savings in fossil fuel, CO2 emissions and is also beneficial to local air quality and road congestion. ​ ​This will not be a solution for everyone, it largely depends on cost and proximity to a rail terminal or wharf, however for many it could work as an alternative to road freight.

Verdict –  Rail or shipping can achieve significant environmental benefits, and is more likely to be a viable solution for operators moving high quantities over long distances. 

Next Steps- If you are interested in exploring how you could implement modal shift in your operations, the below links could be a helpful place to start. 

EcoTransIT World calculates environmental impacts of different transport modes the world.

Freightlink is a leading European freight ferry ticket agent covering more than 750 ferry routes. They connect hauliers, van drivers, couriers, manufacturers and many other businesses (large & small) to more than 50 countries across the continent.