Beer, Belgium and Eco-trucks: how European regulations are hampering decarbonisation efforts
Christophe Richard (IRU)
Tue, 05/18/2021 – 13:48
Ninatrans CEO and President of IRU member FEBETRA Benny Smets knows a lot about time-critical transport, especially for his client AB InBev, the world’s biggest brewing company. And he knows a lot about sustainable logistics and reducing carbon footprints. That’s why he turned to Eco-trucks five years ago. European rules need to catch up.
Ninatrans is a Belgian road transport and logistics company, based close to the city of Leuven, well-known for its centuries old university and beer-brewing tradition. A family business now in its third generation and specialising in time-sensitive shipments, Ninatrans has locations in Belgium, Germany and Czechia. Benny Smets is its CEO.
Ninatrans has been a pioneer in deploying Eco-trucks and was the first Belgian company to take part in a trial back in 2015.
Since then, Ninatrans has had one Eco-truck stretching 25.25 metres long on the road, initially only in the Flemish part of Belgium. In 2017, Ninatrans extended its Eco-truck operations to the French speaking part of the country, where paperwork was initially problematic.
“Again, this was not straightforward because our Flemish authorisations were not automatically recognised by the authorities in the French speaking part of Belgium,” explains Benny.
Ninatrans’ experience is reflective of the issues found by many operators wishing to deploy Eco-trucks: there is a significant lack of harmonised regulations for these longer vehicles. While governments have amended regulations to allow for larger planes, ships and trains, weights and dimensions legislation for heavy goods vehicles has remained unchanged for decades.
When asked about the reasons for deploying Eco-trucks, Benny Smets, who has a deep knowledge of the opportunities and challenges in the goods transport and logistics market, is clear, “the demand for transporting goods by road is continuing to increase and, at the same time, as industry we have to reduce our carbon footprint. The Eco-truck is a quick win, as it is relatively easy to deploy in a short period of time.
“About 50% more goods can be carried by an Eco-truck than by a standard vehicle combination and this efficiency increase very largely offsets the increase in fuel consumption which comes with the more volume carried. The end result has both economic and environmental benefits as two Eco-truck combinations can replace three standard ones, reducing the total number of vehicles on the road.”Ninatrans CEO
Benny points out that in order to reap the benefits of Eco-truck use for the environment and congestion reduction, they need to be deployed more widely. Today, only 117 Eco-trucks are operating in Belgium, out of nearly 100,000 trucks registered in the country. Too few also considering that there are over 2,000 Eco-trucks in operation in the Netherlands.
According to the International Transport Forum1, the use of Eco-trucks reduces fuel consumption per tkm by up to 35%, considerably improving the environmental and economic efficiency of goods transport by road.
These benefits are shared by Ninatrans’s main Eco-truck client, global brewer AB InBev. Reducing the carbon footprint of its logistics chain is a key priority for AB InBev and the other clients who have also shown an interest in using Ninatrans’s Eco-truck services.
Obstacles and challenges
One of the main challenges in deploying Eco-trucks is the lack of rules for cross-border use, which often effectively prevents them from operating in international transport. Ninatrans is not yet using Eco-trucks for cross-border operations, but is exploring routes between Belgium and the Netherlands. The Benelux Ministerial Decision on “trials with longer and heavier vehicles crossing an intra-Benelux border” will help, although a separate authorisation from the various countries and regions is still needed in order to cross the border.
“This agreement is a great step forward, but still includes too many administrative restrictions which could be further reduced especially terms of required authorisations and mutual recognition of certificates and qualifications. However, the agreement is a good basis to further develop harmonised EU rules for the use of Eco-trucks,” says Benny Smets.
Looking to the future, Benny Smets is very positive. The benefits of Eco-trucks can be further maximised with more appropriate and harmonised regulation.
IRU has been calling for the cross-border international use of Eco-trucks to be permitted worldwide, with a harmonised legal framework and mutual recognition of standards and conditions. This simple step will make a substantial contribution to meeting global decarbonisation objectives.
“Politicians should be much more open to the use of Eco-trucks and look to the opportunities offered in a much more constructive way. Our industry, our clients and our logistics partners should be much more vocal in telling our decision-makers about this fantastic tool, with a view to its wider use throughout the European Union and beyond,” concludes Benny.
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