The use of drones for delivery of small commercial packages could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the freight sector in certain situations, reports a modelling study published in Nature Communications this week. The study identifies scenarios where adoption of drone-based delivery would result in environmental benefits over truck-based delivery.
Widespread adoption of drones for commercial package delivery is expected to become a reality in the future, with faster delivery times than currently provided by trucks. This shift from fossil-fuel powered vehicles to battery-run drones may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
Joshuah Stolaroff and colleagues compare the impacts between copters, a particular type of drone expected to be used for package delivery, and diesel-powered delivery trucks in the United States. They develop an energy use model to show that although drones consume less energy per package and kilometre than trucks, they require additional warehousing (sites for storage), which increases energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, the model shows that for light-package delivery (0.5 kg) by small drones (such as quadcopters), energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are lower than for truck-based delivery. For delivery of medium-sized packages (8 kg), drones produced 9% lower greenhouse gas emissions than truck delivery in California, but emissions were 50% higher than truck delivery in Missouri.
The authors caution that higher than expected warehousing needs and improvements in ground-vehicle energy efficiency should be considered in the future by regulators and firms considering implementing drone-delivery systems.