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Freight Decarbonization — Where Are We?

January 24, 2023

Freight Decarbonization — Where Are We?

Since our beginning, Covenant has proactively invested in minimizing environmental impact.

Since our beginning, Covenant has proactively invested in minimizing environmental impact.

Like other industries, ours is concerned about the environment. While we play an important and positive role in providing products needed for everyday life, road freight is also a significant contributor to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Our industry runs on diesel. At this time, it’s still the ultimate fuel cell — energy-dense, portable and available. And while innovation and distribution are in the early states of delivering fuel alternatives, we still don’t have a magic bullet.

Covenant, our competitors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), fuel producers and entrepreneurs are constantly working on a good alternative to diesel in order to “decarbonize” freight — to reduce and eventually eliminate carbon emissions. And while there are solutions we can implement today to help reduce current carbon outputs, we still have a long way to go. It’s a journey, to be sure.

Start with the Facts

Globally, there are approximately 3 million road freight companies operating about 217 million vehicles, which accounts for about 9% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.[1] In the U.S., there are approximately 570,000 long-distance freight trucking companies[2] operating 4.06 million Class 8 trucks. The transportation industry in our country accounts for about 26% of CO2 emissions,[3] with our slice of the industry’s CO2 emissions estimated to be 7% to 8% of that.

In the U.S., trucks move about 72% of the nation’s freight by weight.[4] And, at least for now, the nature of our core business involves operating diesel-powered trucks to deliver essential items throughout our country.

Given these statistics, decarbonization is an especially hot topic in our industry. Our current state doesn’t mean we’ll be diesel-centric forever, but evolving to different fuel types and carbon-reduction protocols will take time. Our industry is in the early stages of decarbonizing, and we can see a future where the entire supply chain will use clean, renewable technologies, but the right mix of research, available technology and overall affordability is not yet in our reach.

What’s in the Pipeline?

Many of our customers already have aggressive initiatives to be completely carbon neutral by 2030, 2040 and 2050, noble goals we want to help them meet. Covenant plans to support these customers by continuing to make sustainability a part of how we make business decisions.

Here’s what we’re working on:

Hydrogen power:

We believe hydrogen-powered trucks will one day be a part of our fleet because it’s the only technology that can deliver the range needed for long-haul fleets like ours. We are currently working with leading OEMs to test and engineer refueling networks that best meet our needs. However, affordable hydrogen solutions are still far off.

Alternative fuels:

Quite a few alternative fuel solutions are under development for our industry. While diesel will be with us for a while, other fuels such as bio-diesel, compressed natural gas and renewable diesel (RD) are potential replacements.

RD, for example, generates less soot, is recommended by engine manufacturers, and produces over 50% fewer greenhouse gases than regular diesel. It’s a perfect “bridge” technology in our decarbonization journey, but it’s not yet widely obtainable. At the moment, Covenant is actively testing RD performance and working with our fuel distributors to be at the front of the line when it becomes more available.

Battery electric vehicles:

Although our average length-of-haul far exceeds the range of today’s first-generation Class 8 battery electric vehicles, we have use cases where they are good alternatives to diesel-powered assets. We are working closely with two OEMs to test deployment of this technology. We have completed several successful proof-of-concept projects, and are eager to partner with shippers who are excited about investing with us in this carbon-free solution.

Autonomous technology:

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is no longer science fiction. It will never replace human drivers, but as we continue to explore it, we believe AV technology will provide some significant benefits.

For example, AV technology isn’t constrained by hours of service requirements. This means AV trucks can be operated all day, giving them more driving time to get to the final destination. In addition, AV trucks can travel at slower speeds, promoting safer driving conditions and increasing fuel economy — our AV partners estimate an increase in efficiency of between 8% and 13%. Plus, AVs can more easily travel during off-peak hours, helping to reduce traffic congestion.

Covenant has partnered with two of the leading AV technology start-ups to help develop and deploy this solution. While it’s still a long way off, AV is part of our long-term roadmap.

Reduced idle time:

In order to improve asset utilization and reduce idle time, we are investing in more electric auxiliary power units (EAPUs). These aftermarket devices allow drivers to operate air conditioning, heating and electrical devices during rest cycles, dwell time and at port entries — without idling the truck — for up to eight hours. These devices reduce fuel consumption, provide better driver comfort, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


For two decades, we’ve been using aerodynamic trailer skirts to save fuel and decrease carbon emissions, reducing our fleet’s carbon emissions by 114,194 metric tons. Recognizing this effort, TRANSTEX recently honored Covenant with an appreciation award, highlighting our positive impact on the environment.

More recently we have piloted new aerodynamic technology — TruckWings — to close the gap between a truck’s cab and trailer to reduce drag, improve stability and increase fuel efficiency.

Tire recycling:

Covenant works with Bridgestone to safely recycle tires into material used for playgrounds, road projects, curbing, speed bumps and back-fill for retaining walls. Our efforts in 2021 helped keep 600,000 pounds of tire waste out of landfills, contributing to the well-being of our communities and the long-term health of our planet.

The Long Game

We’re invested in the long game because many future initiatives depend on technologies and solutions that haven’t yet been invented. However, our equipment suppliers are making great progress in developing alternative fuels, autonomous vehicles, battery-electric breakthroughs, zero-waste manufacturing, software using artificial intelligence and more.

Though it continues to evolve, here’s Covenant’s future vision:

• Reducing fleet idle percentage by 15% by 2025 and 35% by 2030.

• 20% of diesel purchases to be made from renewable sources by 2030.

• 15% of all new fleet purchases to be carbon-neutral by 2030.

• Improve fuel economy by 8% by 2025 and 25% by 2030.

• Integrate autonomous vehicles into the fleet by 2027.

• 60% of the fleet to be carbon-neutral by 2040.

Since our beginning, Covenant has proactively invested in minimizing environmental impact. We have participated in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program since 2006. SmartWay tracks, documents and shares information about fuel use and freight emissions across supply chains — and we are proud to have earned the SmartWay High Performer award in 2021 and 2022, a designation given to fewer than 10% of all SmartWay carriers based on a higher level of performance regarding fuel consumption per mile traveled and tons of freight moved.

We have also been awarded the EcoVadis 2022 Bronze Sustainability Rating, a designation that places our company in the top 50 percent for sustainability practices.

We are excited to be on our decarbonization journey and to support the research and development of diesel alternatives. We believe our industry is poised to impact the world positively, and at Covenant, we are committed to “doing business good while doing business well.”

Interested in learning more about Covenant’s initiatives and how we can help you support your transportation sustainability efforts? Please contact me at

[1] Deloitte, “Decarbonizing Road Freight: Getting Into Gear,” 2020

[2] IBISWorld Industry Statistics, 2022

[3] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Fast Facts on Transportation Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” 2020

[4] American Trucking Association Economics and Industry Data, 2021