July 3 - Improving the efficiency of freight transport by road is critical to reducing the growth in oil demand, carbon emissions and air pollution over the next decades, according to the latest report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Despite accounting for almost a fifth of global oil demand, or around 17 million barrels per day - equivalent to the combined oil production of the USA and Canada - the IEA says the sector gets far less attention and policy focus than passenger vehicles.

According to the IEA, while the growth in oil demand from trucks has outpaced all other sectors since 2000 and contributed 40 percent to global oil demand growth, only four countries have energy-efficiency standards for heavy trucks, compared with approximately 40 countries with passenger vehicle standards.

The organisation warns that if no action is taken, oil demand from road freight is projected to grow by 5 million barrels per day by 2050. The main drivers of oil demand from trucks are the USA, the European Union and China, while India is emerging as a growing contributor.

In an effort to address this rise in demand and emissions, the IEA describes a policy pathway for truck transport that could reduce energy use in road freight by 50 percent and emissions by 75 percent by 2050.

Firstly, the IEA says the trucking sector can improve logistics and systems operations in order to be more efficient, which includes using global positioning systems to optimise truck routing, as well as real-time feedback devices that monitor the on-road fuel economy of trucks.

According to the IEA, this will require increased cooperation, as well as the exchange of data, information and assets across the entire supply chain, and will help increase the volume or weight of cargo hauled to improve the load on each trip, as well as reduce the number of trips during which trucks are running empty.

Secondly, the IEA report finds that energy-efficiency improvements for the existing fleet should include aerodynamic retrofits to reduce drag as well as low-rolling resistance tyres. New trucks can use additional technologies that cut idling, use lightweight materials and take advantage of improvements to truck engines, transmissions and drivetrains. Achieving stronger cuts in fuel use, carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions requires the use of hybrids and zero emission trucks.

Finally, using alternative fuels such as natural gas, biofuels, electricity and hydrogen can diversify fuel supply away from oil and also help reduce carbon emissions, especially if produced from low-carbon pathways.

The report suggests that while some of the improvements necessary may be expensive or complex, many can be easily accomplished in the near-term by strong policy support.

"For far too long there has been a lack of policy focus on truck fuel efficiency. Given they are now the dominant driver of global oil demand, the issue can no longer be ignored if we are to meet our energy and environmental objectives," said Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director. "Our study highlights the gains that are possible from tighter truck fuel efficiency standards and sets out other cost-effective steps to modernise freight transport."