New £7m fund to steer freight along a more sustainable journey

02 February 2023 by Acre
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​A £7 million fund has been launched to ‘green up’ the freight delivery process, which will create new jobs in the UK.

The government-backed freight innovation fund (FIF) will help support up to 36 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) over the next three years to ensure freight solutions are efficient to help improve transport links and decarbonise the sector.

Innovative technology will be scaled up and rolled out across the industry, thanks to the funding, which is expected to improve journey times and predictability. It is hoped the new solutions will help reduce air pollution, reduce traffic, generate jobs and ensure customers receive their goods more efficiently.

Industry-leading businesses will work with the SMEs to develop innovations to improve the resilience of freight and its impact on the environment by looking at ways to improve the goods moving between rail, road and maritime transport.

Tightening up operations

The FIF was unveiled last year as part of the government’s ‘future of freight’ plan for the UK freight transport sector. The cross-modal and cross-government plan focuses on a series of priorities for the sector including cost efficiency, reliability, resilience, environmentally sustainability and being valued by society.

SMEs will be given the opportunity to test new innovations, roll out new technology and undertake new work processes to reduce emissions and unlock efficiencies, the latter having the potential of being “huge” according to the Department for Transport.

The businesses will also benefit from a FIF accelerator which will provide bespoke support to innovators to help them access private investment and networking opportunities with other movers and shakers in the freight industry.

Richard Holden, Roads Minister, said: “Our freight industry is vital to underpinning the economy and keeps Britain moving, so it is crucial we invest in new innovations to make it greener and quicker.

“This fund will accelerate new ideas and technologies, helping to develop a future pipeline of innovations that can be rolled out to create jobs and allow everyone to get their goods faster and easier.”

Strengthening the freight network capacity will help it recover from any disruption and will increase supply chain resilience for a multitude of industries across the country.

Overcoming ongoing freight issues

The government’s future freight plan sets a strategy for the government and industry to align their work to deliver a world-class, smooth flow of freight across roads, railways, seas, skies and canals in the UK.

However, there are challenges to overcome including three long-standing issues:

  • The lack of large-scale data collection cross-industry which could be shared across the different modes of freight transport to improve better coordination and efficiencies

  • Difficulties in inter-modal transport (such as rail and road) and ways to improve breaking up large consignments into smaller ones to reduce traffic and emissions

  • Improving freight distribution in ports across various transport modes which could improve efficiency and predictability of the rest of the journey

The plan also highlights the importance of identifying a National Freight Network to monitor and comprehend movements within the freight industry and its economic value.

Delivering a better future

This latest fund for the industry follows on from previous government initiatives designed to increase R&D. Other technologies supported in separate funds include Hypermile’s AI programme to help HGV drivers save fuel, AI analysis from Fishbone Solutions to ensure wagons are working correctly via vibrational data and a tool from CGA Simulation designed to predict the best place for infrastructure to enable revolutionary development in logistics.

Governmental innovation agency Connected Places Catapult developed the FIF and will give SMEs access to technical and business support from the organisation.

Nicola Yates OBE, CEO at Connected Places Catapult, said: “Each year in the UK, we transport 1.6 billion tonnes of freight using many different modes of transport, and it has never been quicker or easier. The freight sector makes a huge contribution to our economy and contributes significantly to domestic carbon emissions.

“We are delighted to be working with Department for Transport to launch this freight innovation fund as part of their future of freight strategy. The fund will help us to work with innovators and industry partners to develop a pipeline of technology and data innovations that will tackle the freight sector’s emerging needs, ensuring that resilience, efficiency and carbon reduction are core to the sector’s future.”

Jonathan Goldsmith, Head of Transport and Infrastructure – Sustainable Business at Acre UK, said: “Global freight is responsible for 30% of all transport-related carbon emissions from fuel combustion. Emissions are set to quadruple by 2050 as supply chains become more complex, and consumers demand even faster access to goods, making freight one of the hardest industries to decarbonise.

“This is a positive first step; however, much more investment is needed if we are to meet 2050 net zero ambitions.”