Delivery UAVs could halve freight CO2 emissions

Commercial UAVs could almost halve the CO2 emissions of urban freight transport, according to a new report.

The findings, which compare commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with light commercial vehicles (LCVs), are the work of Inmarsat and Cranfield University, who have been looking into the possibilities and applications unlocked by commercial UAVs.

As part of the report, UAVs: Unlocking positive transformation in the world, Cranfield University used its own modelling and primary data resources to compare the CO2 emissions emitted by UAVs and LCVs.

An LCV delivering 10 similar sized packages per eight-hour shift over a 5km delivery radius and, following a regular schedule of consecutive deliveries, produces an estimated CO2 emission rate of 3,394g per 24 hours, or three shifts.

In contrast, a large-sized UAV with a 50kg payload operating in the same delivery protocol as the LCV produces 1,800g of emissions per 24 hours, representing a 47% reduction.

Alternatively, a medium-sized UAV with a 36km range, carrying a 5kg payload under less-than-optimal operating pattern, was estimated to produce 2,160g of carbon dioxide emissions over 24 hours. This is a reduction of 36% compared to the equivalent LCV road transport.

Professor Dame Helen Atkinson, Cranfield University’s pro-vice-chancellor of the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, said: “Commercial UAVs have the potential to transform our world in a range of safe and environmentally friendly ways. This report is an important step in harnessing the power of UAVs and unlocking the opportunities they offer to advance air transport activities and services with fast and efficient delivery of goods.”

The report, which analyses both new and existing research, also identifies the many other commercial advantages provided by UAVS, among them cost and time savings leading to enhanced supply chain and business efficiencies.

In addition, it explores the considerable, non-financial benefits of UAVs, such as delivering humanitarian and medical aid to remote communities and conflict zones, surveillance to protect endangered animals from poachers and monitoring for illegal deforestation or mining operations.