Working Paper

Beyond road vehicles: Survey of zero-emission technology options across the transport sector

This working paper discusses the potential of zero-emission technologies to reduce emissions from non-road transport, including aviation, maritime, off-road, and rail. These modes represent a quarter of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions and pose significant local pollution issues, but policy regulating emissions for these vehicles has been slow-moving and fragmented. Based on demonstrations, pilot projects, and available research literature, this working paper evaluates the benefits and barriers to the adoption of various zero-emission technologies in each sector and discusses policy implications.

We find that zero-emission technologies are coming to the entire transport sector, but at different rates of progress. Aviation faces high barriers to electrification due to safety requirements, sensitivity to weight, and high-performance demands. Until substantial advances are made in the underlying technologies, zero-emission technologies within aviation will likely remain in niche applications such as general aviation, air taxis, and commuter planes. In the maritime sector, battery electric ships are already becoming viable for ferry and short sea-shipping applications, but large vessels used in trans-oceanic shipping will require more novel solutions still under development. For off-road vehicles and equipment, a variety of solutions will be required to meet a wide range of power needs and jobs, but zero-emission powertrains generally appear capable of meeting the needs of this sector and have already seen significant uptake in specific applications.

In each of these modes, these technologies have the potential to contribute substantially to climate change mitigation and air quality benefits. Governments can support this transition by requiring incremental improvements through standards while simultaneously promoting research and demonstrations to determine which pathways are most promising for specific applications.