New methods of calculating carbon footprints needed

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A report recommends new methods of calculating carbon emissions for freight transport within the European chemical industry.

“Measuring and Managing CO2 Emissions of European Chemical Transport” was prepared for the European chemical industry council, Cefic, by Professor Alan McKinnon and Dr Maja Piecyk and published by the Logistics Research Centre at Heriot-Watt University.

The report says the chemical industry is relatively progressive in its attempts to measure carbon efficiency within its freight transport operations.  However it found current methods of measurement to be inaccurate. 

Measuring load weights and distances against standardised carbon emission factors does not account for the variables in the logistics process, and instead a more detailed consideration of energy use should be used. 

The report advocates an ideal “energy-based” method of calculation using precise consumption data provided by carriers, to address the complex relationship between the weight of goods produced in this industrial sector and the CO2 emissions from its freight transport operations.

As an interim measure, it suggests a set of recommended average transport emission factors for more accurate measurements across different modes of transport known as a “refined activity-based approach.”

This provisional refinement would incorporate sample data on distances, routeing, backloading and fuel efficiency to allow more precise, calibrated measurements of emission factors specific to the chemical industry.  Further, it hopes to allow for company and also product specific emission factors. This in turn should allow “full operational, energy and carbon transparency”.

The report says that by improving the precision of carbon measurements, the chemical industry will be better placed to develop more intelligent decarbonisation strategies. 

There are five key freight transport parameters that will be most affected by the increased efficiency of subsequent strategies: modal split, supply chain structure, vehicle utilisation, energy efficiency and carbon intensity of the energy used.

The report points out that many changes that companies have made for economic efficiency have also cut carbon, but that determining the cost-effectiveness of broader decarbonisation schemes will require further research. 

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