UK policy and early movers can play a significant role in unleashing finance to decarbonise the UK freight transport sector

freight transport modes and fuel

Efforts should be directed towards whole freight system analysis capability, co-created roadmaps and ports as decarbonisation hubs to help the freight transport sector’s transition

London – 19.10.2023 – The end of project report released today by the Decarbonising UK Freight Transport (DUKFT) Network, suggest several ways to overcome the chicken-and-egg problems associated with decarbonising road, rail and maritime freight transport. Collectively these sectors represent nearly 7% of UK CO2 emissions and continue to rise fuelled by e-commerce demand and cheap transportation costs.

Operating over three years, the UK Research & Innovation funded DUKFT Network, a collection of over forty academic, policy and industry organisation, undertook six research projects and two stakeholder events exploring how to mobilise investment that can enable UK freight decarbonisation whilst managing risk and maximising opportunity.

The synthesis report released from the Network presents the key findings, transition pathways and the gaps in investment for each of the freight sectors and how the gap can be closed. Electrification is a common need across all freight modes and therefore is a no-regrets low-risk investment from both public and private investors. Renewable Fuels of Non-Biological Origin e.g. hydrogen derived fuels such as methanol and ammonia, may also be important in some niches for road and rail freight, but have the greatest role in decarbonising domestic and international maritime freight.

A whole system approach

Given the above, the report finds that UK freight decarbonisation strategy can be most efficiently informed by a whole freight system, whole UK analysis capability, which needs to couple detail on both infrastructure and vehicle/vessel fleets with operational and technology specifics.

“There remains a clear need for identifying and articulating the least-cost configuration and strategy for UK freight decarbonisation. New Modelling approaches are required to address the challenges of simultaneous wholesale changes across all the transport modes. These models are sophisticated and take time to build but they are the only way of addressing complexity and they offer a low risk, cost effective pathway to reducing uncertainty and accelerating investment.”

Professor Phil Greening, Joint Principal Investigator of DUKFT, Director of Centre for Sustainable Road Freight and Centre for Logistics and Sustainability, Heriot-Watt University

Shared visions

In addition to whole freight system modelling, co-creation processes were a successful tool and will continue to be important for future research on UK freight decarbonisation, not only to maximise the relevance and quality of research, but also for the co-benefits of creating and enabling shared visions within stakeholder communities, framing of the challenge ahead and helping to enable a dialogue between industry and government stakeholders. DUKFT primarily had the resources to explore co-creation at small-scale and regionally, which showed that even within the UK, freight decarbonisation can require place-based specialisation.

“The research has shown that when effort was invested to bring stakeholders from different parts of freight value chains together (industry, academia, NGO and government stakeholders), there was benefit to identify a shared vision and co-create ideas for both public and private actions aligned with unlocking investment in decarbonisation”

Dr Tristan Smith, Principal Investigator of DUKFT, Associate Professor at UCL

Ports play a key role

The report suggests that UK ports can be key nodes in the UK freight sector’s decarbonisation. They are both interfaces between the modes (road, rail and shipping), but also represent locations where infrastructure and decarbonisation solution synergies are most likely exploited. They are also likely to be hubs for wider offtake of electrification and RFNBOs, for example for decarbonising co-located industries. The role of ports in the UK’s transition needs to be considered broadly to help reframe them as centres for green opportunity.

Bringing stakeholders from across the supply chain together i.e. energy suppliers, port owners, vessel/vehicle owners, logistics companies, along with investors and financiers including institutional investors, is crucial in establishing opportunities and creating a platform to mobilise infrastructural investment. DUKFT found that there is a lack of clear demand for zero emission fuels and this needs to change to create a business case.

The critical role of early movers and policy makers

“Early movers can mobilise and de-risk investment in the emergence phase of the transition by establishing alliances and initiatives, ahead of regulations. Alliances between cargo owners which aggregate local/regional demand for zero emission fuelled freight services, thereby creating long-term offtake agreements of future fuel usage between fleet operators and suppliers, can be highly valuable kickstart the diffusion of fuels and technologies”.

Dr Nishatabbas Rehmatulla, Co-investigator and project manager of DUKFT, Principal Research Fellow at UCL

Policy makers have a critical role in setting clear, ambitious targets supported by effective policies, and acting on evidence on electrification, including shore power in ports and charging infrastructure for HGVs. Stakeholders carrying transition risk, e.g. financiers, should use their critical role by ensuring they’re using tools such as the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) to ensure their investments are 1.5-aligned i.e. rapidly moving away from dependence on fossil fuels.

Read the full report

DecarboN8 Director, Professor Greg Marsden, leads Place theme for the new Energy Demand Research Centre

green future

Energy demand reduction has a key role to play if the UK is to meet net zero targets by 2050. A new national Energy Demand Research Centre will build an evidence base for understanding the impact of energy demand reduction, from the perspectives of what low energy demand futures may be like, how energy demand could become more flexible, what place-based solutions, skills and policies are needed, how energy demand can be embedded in governance and what does energy demand reduction mean from an equity perspective.

The centre, led by Prof Mari Martiskainen at the Universities of Sussex and Prof Sara Walker, University of Newcastle, and including ten other universities, will investigate how domestic, industrial and transport energy demand reduction can be delivered on a local and national level across the UK. The work of the centre will be divided into five themes:

  • Futures (led by Prof John Barret, Leeds): to understand the underlying conditions needed to deliver a low energy future in the UK to contribute to rapid greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions.
  • Flexibility (led by Prof Jacopo Torriti, Reading): to assess the needs, impacts and implications of demand-side flexibility – i.e. the capacity to use energy in different locations at different times of the day or the year – and to explore solutions that enable effective and equitable deployment of demand-side flexibility.
  • Place (led by Prof Greg Marsden, Leeds): to build a new approach to place-based approaches and policy making which provides actionable insights, tools and processes which enable an acceleration of the Net Zero transition.
  • Governance (led by Dr Kate Pangbourne, Leeds): to develop a research and action programme that contributes to the Centre’s delivery of short-term impact and identifies feasible models, policies and pathways to overall energy demand reductions and decarbonization.
  • Equity (led by Prof Karen Turner, Strathclyde): to generate rigorous, interdisciplinary and actionable evidence and knowledge on how different energy demand solutions can deliver an affordable, clean and more equitable Net Zero energy system.

The centre has been awarded £15 million from the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Professor Tony Roskilly (Network-H2) to lead UK National Clean Maritime Research Hub

ship and port

This post originally appeared on Durham University

Illustration created by Nifty Fox

The UK National Clean Maritime Research Hub (UK-MaRes Hub) aims to accelerate the decarbonisation and elimination of air pollution from maritime activity in ports and at sea. As well as environmental impacts, the Hub will also focus on the potential economic and social benefits of transitioning to a clean maritime future. 

Innovative research

The Hub will carry out innovative research in sustainable marine fuels and their safe use, low-carbon power and propulsion systems for shipping, decarbonised port operations and infrastructure, improved maritime operations and vessel efficiency.

Key elements include:

  • The Clean Maritime Research Partnership which will work with partners across the maritime sector to co-create future research activity;
  • A Clean Maritime Network+, with activity across the UK to share knowledge and best practice;
  • A Clean Maritime Policy Unit to provide advice, evidence, and briefings to inform policy.

University, industrial, civic and international partners

The Hub brings together over 80 university, industrial, civic and international organisations as project partners, including shipping companies, ports, equipment and service providers, fuel producers and civic bodies.

Any organisation which can contribute to the research goals of the Hub is invited to express an interest in joining by emailing:

The Hub will also provide opportunities for early career researchers (ECRs) via a Responsive Research Fund, while equality diversity and inclusion and the development of under-represented groups and ECRs will be embedded throughout the Hub’s activity.

Find out more

  • The UK-MaRes Hub is a consortium of 13 universities led by Durham and including researchers from Aston, Birmingham, Brighton, City, Cranfield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, Solent, St Andrews and Ulster universities. It also brings together over 70 industrial, civic and international organisations as project partners, including shipping companies, ports, equipment and service providers, fuel producers and civic bodies.
  • Funding includes £7.4m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Department for Transport, with an additional £13.9m financial and in-kind match funding from consortium universities and project partners. The funding is part of a wider UK Government package of clean maritime measures.
  • The Hub builds on Durham’s strengths in net-zero research across areas such as hydrogen fuelled transport and decarbonisation of heating and cooling, as well as the Clean Maritime Research Partnership. Discover more about the Net-Zero Research Network.
  • Professor Tony Roskilly, Chair of Energy Systems in our Department of Engineering, will lead the UK-MaRes Hub. Tony is also a director of Durham Energy Institute.

Decarbonising Transport: Obstacles, Options and Opportunities

Decarbonising Transport: Obstacles, Options and Opportunities

Decarbonising Transport: Obstacles, Options and Opportunities is a week-long virtual event which aims to share state of the art knowledge on the decarbonisation challenge and bring together key stakeholders to help inform the way forward. This event is for transport, climate and planning policymakers and practitioners from national, regional and local government across the UK. Speakers will be from universities, policy, industry and civil society.

Find out more and register

Accelerating the Decarbonisation of Mobility: Working Across Boundaries

The Cut Carbon Networks held a joint Summer School in September for PhD students and Early Career Researchers working on any aspect of the challenge of decarbonising mobility in both the passenger and freight sectors. Twenty-nine researchers attended the three day event which was held at the National Railway Museum in York.

A cross-disciplinary approach

By bringing together researchers from a variety of different but related fields, the summer school helped participants see how their work fits into the broader system of energy and transport decarbonisation. Prof Simone Abram and Dr Sarah Higginson kicked off the event with an interactive session on the need to consider equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in all aspects of research.

Prof Jillian Anable and Prof John Barrett provided context, framing transport decarbonisation as an aspect of the wider energy system. Participants also heard presentations from researchers from each of the five Cut Carbon networks; including a talk on decarbonising maritime freight from Dr Nish Rehmatulla, a presentation on hydrogen fuel from Prof Tony Roskilly and a look at public acceptability and EV chargepoints with Dr Craig Morton.

They also heard from a panel of government and industry stakeholders about their thoughts on necessary change. You can listen to the panel discussion on Soundcloud:

Real world perspective

York is one of the sites for the UK’s e-scooter trials. Summer school participants had to opportunity to gain some insight into how the scheme is working as they explored the city on Tier e-bikes and e-scooters.

The summer school participants also spent time working in interdisciplinary teams to create participatory systems maps around systems for reducing fossil fuel consumption for transport in the UK. They then tested their assumptions in the real world by venturing into different parts of the city to investigate at how people use the local transports systems, who might be excluded, and how different types of decarbonising measures might interact with the whole system.

Preparing for a lower carbon future

Feedback collected at the end of the summer school suggests that there is a real need for opportunities like this which help early career researchers make connections across disciplines and provide an opportunity for them to investigate the connections and contradictions inherent in different approaches to reducing carbon emission from transport.

As we work towards a lower carbon future we need researchers who can collaborate across disciplines and also with policymakers and industry stakeholders. We need solutions that take into account human behaviour and that don’t leave anyone behind. This Summer School focussed on building skills to appreciate how to connect across disciplines, modes, scales and methods to better equip attendees for the challenges researchers are now tasked with addressing.

Summer School Call for Applications

Accelerating the Decarbonisation of Mobility: Working Across Boundaries

This Summer School is aimed at PhD students and Early Career Researchers working on any aspect of the challenge of decarbonising mobility in both the passenger and freight sectors. The scale of the challenge is huge and the scope of what needs to be done equally broad. Developing different energy pathways for a wide range of mobility technologies creates huge engineering challenges. These are deeply intertwined with implementation issues surrounding the allocation of space, funding and business models and social imaginations of the ways in which people and businesses will move around and the policy environments through which this unfolds. The Summer School is focussed on building skills to appreciate how to connect across disciplines, modes, scales and methods to better equip attendees for the challenges researchers are now tasked with addressing.

Benefits of attending the Summer School:

  • Gain an appreciation of the scale and scope of the challenge of decarbonising transport
  • Understand how different disciplinary perspectives contribute to the decarbonisation agenda
  • Develop new skills to help connect your work to that of other researchers and practitioners
  • Develop exciting new ideas to tackle the decarbonisation challenge for transport
  • Appreciate the importance of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion to your research and practice

Who is this for?

The Summer School is supported by Cut Carbon which brings together a set of EPSRC funded Networks each tackling a different part of the decarbonisation challenge. The networks cover a range of engineering challenges but also address the relationships between technological change and social change and between institutional structures, policy design and technology. The Summer School is primarily aimed at PhD students and Early Career Researchers working in the area of decarbonising transport. If your work is relevant and this sounds like the kind of environment that you would like to be part of then we would like to hear from you.

When and where will it be?

27-29 September 2022, National Railway Museum, York

What will it cost?

The Summer School is fully funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The course is free to attend for PhD students and Early Career Researchers based in the UK. Once at the event, food and accommodation will be provided. Travel to and from your place of residence (in the UK) to the Summer School will also be covered though we may ask you to purchase travel tickets in advance to be reimbursed.

How to apply

Complete and submit the Summer School Application Form by 17:00 GMT on 24 June 2022.

Research Projects

Over the past several months the Cut Carbon networks have allocated small pots of funding to a variety of research projects looking at different aspects of transport decarbonisation. Here are the projects that have been funded so far.

For details on upcoming funding calls visit our Funding page.


Room to Move – Impacts of road-space reallocation, Dr Stephen Parkes, Sheffield Hallam University

Liveable Liverpool City Region, Dr Richard Dunning, University of Liverpool

CARGO PEDAL: Harnessing the potential of e-cargo bikes for urban sustainable transport, Dr Luke Blazejewski, University of Salford

Leading the way to lower carbon transport: how, when and why do older, more experienced drivers make a change? Dr Julie Clark, University of the West of Scotland

Hydrogen for Sustainable Waterways, Dr Dénes Csala, Lancaster University

Understanding and modelling electric vehicle charging behaviour using choice modelling, Dr Trivikram Dokka, Lancaster University 

Integrating embodied carbon emissions into northern transport infrastructure scenarios, Dr Jannik Giesekam, University of Leeds  

Serious Games for Serious Energy Solutions: A Case Study of Diversity for Innovation in Bradford, Dr Zoe M Harris, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London

Decarbonising Transport with Neighbourhood Plans in Northern England, Dr Caglar Koksal, University of Manchester

Development of a co-designed zero-carbon urban freight system, Dr Daniela Paddeu, University of the West of England  

Read abstracts for these projects on the DecarboN8 website

Decarbonising UK Freight

Understanding Freight Decarbonisation Investment Decisions, Fraser McLeod, University of Southampton, and Anthony Velazquez Abad, Transport Research Laboratory

Transport Investment Decisions (TIDE): An exploration of climate alignment in freight related investment decisions, Nadia Ameli, UCL

An Integrated System and Service Design Approach for Decarbonisation of UK Freight Transportation (INSTINCT), Alok Choudhary, Loughborough University

Co-produced Route-mapping to Accelerate Freight Decarbonisation: a Transdisciplinary Learning and Decision Framework, Graham Parkhurst, University of the West of England

Read abstracts for these projects on the Decarbonising UK Freight website

Decarbonising Transport through Electrification

Optimisation of Intermittent Electrification of Rail Transport for Near-Term, Dr. Will Midgley, Loughborough University, Hitachi Rail Europe

A data-driven approach for optimal distribution network operation with rapid charging infrastructure and large-scale battery storage, Dr. Chun Sing Lai, Brunel University London, UK Power Networks

Optimisation of wireless charging infrastructure deployment for bus services, Dr. Panagiotis Angeloudis , Imperial College London, Alan Turing Institute, Transport for London, Innovate UK, EPSRC IAA

Government meets with top scientists to discuss net-zero options for UK transport

Officials responsible for decarbonising UK transport met with leading researchers from the Cut Carbon Network yesterday, to discuss cutting-edge evidence about how best to deliver the transition to net-zero in the transport sector.

While most sectors have reduced their carbon emissions in recent years, emissions from transport have remained stubbornly high, now making up 33% of the UK’s emissions. To deliver net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, major improvements to how we get around are needed across the UK.

In 2019 the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) invested £5 million in five research networks to find solutions to different aspects of the transport challenge: place-based solutions, electrification, freight, hydrogen, and aviation.

Yesterday the networks shared their initial findings at an online Symposium attended by officials from the Department for Transport; the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government; and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy; as well as a number of leading experts in the field.

Transport Minister, Rachel Maclean MP, who addressed the Symposium, said:

“In order to achieve our net-zero transport goals, we need to do everything we can to make all our journeys cleaner, greener and more efficient. Part of this will involve providing specific adaptable solutions for different cities, across the country.

To help tackle climate change and take a leading role in re-building the economy for the benefit of people and the communities that need it the most, we’re putting a green recovery for transport at the forefront of all our decisions.”

The Symposium was co-organised by EPSRC Transport Decarbonisation Champion Greg Marsden, Professor of Transport Governance at the University of Leeds, who said:

“Decarbonising transport requires an ambitious combination of changes to how people and goods move about, the technologies in use and how they are powered. Such a transition over the coming decades will be very difficult to achieve and, as such, requires a close collaboration between government, industry, and academia. The discussions at this Symposium recognise the scale and scope of the challenge and show how we can build the joint knowledge and capacity to succeed.”

The research networks are continuing to develop cutting-edge evidence to support the UK’s transition to net-zero by 2050 and to inform the development of the Decarbonising Transport Plan in the run up to COP26, due to be hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November 2021.

What is the Cut Carbon Network?


Cut Carbon is a major £5m investment in decarbonising transport by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Five Decarbonising Transport Networks have been funded to bring together expertise from across academia and industry. These networks aim to lay the groundwork for the use of low carbon technologies across road, rail, marine and air. Each network has its own specialist focus. Together they cover a wide range including lower carbon air travel, smart vehicle to grid connectivity, and decarbonising freight transport.

The Cut Carbon initiative acts as an information hub for the five networks recognising the need for a whole system approach to rapid decarbonisation. Here you can find out about events, funding calls and key network deliverables across all of the networks. Cut Carbon will share syntheses of the latest understandings of decarbonisation solutions. It will also help connect industry, government and academia and signpost to the more in-depth studies on-going in each of the networks.

Learn more about the research networks that make up Cut Carbon

Find resources on a variety of transport decarbonisation topics