Energy Efficiency in Transport

By Dr David Martin, Ecovector Consulting, 3 July 2006

The transport sector accounts for over 30% of the UK’s energy consumption by end users, and is responsible for almost 25% of the UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide. Energy is one of the largest operating costs for road freight companies, and for companies with car and van fleet, fuel costs can also represent a significant burden on the bottom line.

Achieving energy efficiency in transport, is therefore, a high priority both for the Government and for the private sector. Adopting cost-effective measures to reduce the UK’s transport energy consumption, together with switching to low carbon fuels and vehicle receives much attention from policy makers and companies alike. There is a wide range of techniques, including management actions, operational planning and innovative technologies that can be used to improve energy efficiency in transport. This article provides a summary of some of these techniques.


The first step to more efficient fleet management is to understand the vehicle fleet and its energy performance. Mileage patterns, fuel use and vehicle types need to be recorded. Fuel performance can be improved by adopting simple measures involving the monitoring and publishing of fuel performance results. This enables managers and their staff to assess the energy efficiency of vehicle operations, and to identify areas where attention is needed to improve performance.

Vehicle Design and Engineering

Specifying the right vehicle to make sure it is fit for its intended purpose is one of the secrets to long term operational efficiency and reduced operating costs over the life of the vehicle. A major factor in achieving maximum energy efficiency is having the most suitable drive-line specification. Vehicle manufacturers can assist the purchaser in deciding upon the best combination of engine power and torque, gearbox and drive axle ratios for the particular vehicle operation. Vehicle Maintenance and Operation Excessive fuel consumption can be caused by poor vehicle maintenance and operation. Problems can arise from faults such as: Regular maintenance checks, through proper management and control procedures, should form a key part of every vehicle fleet operation.

The influence of aerodynamics

Aerodynamic drag has a considerable effect on fuel consumption, particularly when operating at motorway speeds. For a typical commercial vehicle, at a speed of 60 mph, about half the power requirement from the engine is accounted for just to overcome the aerodynamic wind resistance. Drag is dependent on a number of variables which include the frontal area and vehicle speed. The shapes of most goods vehicles are a very long way from being streamlined, since they are determined from other considerations such as ease of load handling, maximising load size within legal constraints and ease of maintenance. However, it is possible to use bolt-on devices that alter a vehicle’s shape and reduce drag. A guide to aerodynamic styling and how to maximize fuel savings from any feature fitted to goods vehicles, together with case studies of successful use of these features can be downloaded from the Freight Best Practice web site.

Managing trips

Careful planning for both employee and commercial transport trips can cut down the miles travelled and reduce fuel use. Managers should ask:-

Travel Plans

A travel plan is a package of measures aimed at bringing transport and other business users together into a co-ordinated strategy, with an emphasis on reducing reliance on single-occupancy car travel. Many organisations have introduced travel plans to encourage their staff, students or visitors to travel other than by private car, thus reducing congestion, improving energy use in transport and reducing pollution. Travel plans are principally designed to increase choice and reduce dependence on the car and are specific to the location. They need to take into account the nature of the business, existing alternatives, and the types of journey that the workforce makes. Typically, the Plan will include measures such as providing cycle parking, offering discounted public transport tickets, starting up a car sharing scheme, or encouraging people to work at home.

The Department for Transport publishes a Travel Plan Resource Pack for Employers which is available to download from

Clean fuel vehicles

Different fuel types will provide different fuel and operational running costs and environmental impacts. For cars and vans, diesel, compared to petrol, compared to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), compared to hybrid vehicle technology will all yield different results. Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a possible option for commercial vehicles. Managers will need to assess the operational costs, capital costs and availability of these different fuels before making investment decisions. The Government is actively promoting new technologies involving low carbon fuels and vehicles via the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and has published a long-term plan via its Powering Future Vehicles Strategy, which is available from


This article has briefly examined the various ways in which fuel efficiency of commercial vehicles, cars and vans can be improved. Simple checklists for routine attention to fuel efficiency, which involve little or no additional costs, are given below:

Fuel efficiency checklist for the vehicle

Fuel efficiency checklist for the operation In addition to these simple actions, there are opportunities for reducing transport fuel consumption through the use of low carbon fuels and vehicles. The challenge to be met is for UK companies to take advantage of the energy efficiency technologies identified here and to exploit the benefits of reduced operating costs and improved efficiency that can result.
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