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Drone Delivery- Energy-efficient, Faster and Sustainable Logistics

24 July 2023

Authored By AJE

A recent publication "Critical assessment of emissions, costs, and time for last-mile goods delivery by drones versus trucks" in THE NATURE by a group of researchers from the University of Gävle, correlated energy consumption and CO2 emission of Drone Delivery compared to conventional diesel and e-trucks.

"Electric drones as an autonomous mode of transport are scaling up to transform last-mile goods delivery, raising an urgent need for assessing impacts of drone transport from a systems perspective. In this paper, we conduct systems analyses to assess the environmental, economic, and delivery time impact of large drones for delivery scenarios to pick-up centers between mid-size cities predominantly in rural areas, and deliveries within city limits compared with electric and diesel trucks. Results show that large drones have lower emissions than diesel trucks for deliveries in rural areas and that drones don’t compete with electric trucks, mainly due to the high energy demand required for take-off and landing for each delivery."

Transportation sector is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions. By 2030, if the ESG policies are fully implemented it is estimated that CO2 emissions from transportation will be reduced to 5.5 Gt CO2 from the current 7 Gt (2020), despite an expected increase in freight transports by a factor of 2.51.

However, the demand for fast deliveries due to the growth in e-commerce has raised environmental concerns, especially in the last part of the supply chain where last-mile delivery trucks are often partially loaded and use suboptimal logistics.

One promising solution to tackle these challenges is the use of electric drone delivery, also known as electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs). Studies show that drones can significantly reduce energy demand, particularly for small drones, offering potential benefits like traffic reduction, time savings, and environmental relief in urban areas. This concept, called Urban Air Mobility (UAM), has quickly evolved to encompass a broader range of transportation use cases under Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

While there are environmental benefits in using drones, their effectiveness is context-dependent. Small drones delivering in urban areas may have higher energy consumption due to short delivery distances and high customer density. However, optimizing drone logistics and routing can improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. Despite concerns about costs and affordability, research suggests that promoting the green image of drone deliveries could cater to specific consumer demographics and increase profitability.

The paper's aim is to evaluate the systems performance of electric drones for parcel deliveries in mid-sized cities in both urban and rural environments.

IMAGE- Results from the environmental assessment, where the greenhouse gas emissions per functional unit are presented relative to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the drone per functional unit.

The study includes an analysis of environmental and economic impacts, as well as delivery time. Various scenarios, such as long and short routes between cities and within cities, are considered to understand the potential of drones to reduce CO2 emissions in transportation. Sensitivity analysis is also conducted to account for different energy use, distances, delivery quantities, and velocities.

It's important to note that drone technology is still in its early stages of development, and like renewable technologies, it is expected to advance rapidly over the coming decades. By anticipating and understanding the potential transitions in transport technologies, we can determine the necessary advancements and their role in society's future, especially during the early adoption phase.

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