Given the global surge in pollution and growing concerns about climate change, economies worldwide are actively seeking strategies to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. The transportation sector, which accounts for approximately 17 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, stands as the fastest-growing contributor to this issue, second only to the power sector. Consequently, countries, including the UAE, are actively exploring innovative solutions and alternative energy sources to power vehicles.
A significant portion of these emissions can be attributed to the expansion of last-mile delivery and road transport, particularly in the UAE. The country’s last-mile delivery market is primarily driven by e-commerce, with a particular emphasis on online food delivery. In today’s era, customer satisfaction heavily relies on the convenience of dependable and swift online deliveries, which often involve the use of motorcycles, cars, and other gasoline-powered vehicles.
Statista reports that the UAE’s online food delivery market, encompassing meals and groceries, is projected to witness an annual growth rate (CAGR 2023-2027) of 14.90 percent. This growth is expected to result in a market volume of approximately $3.36 billion by 2027.
This rapid growth in e-commerce has driven the UAE to dedicate significant efforts toward adopting electric mobility as a new transportation method to combat emissions. The nation has undertaken various initiatives, such as the construction of electric-powered aircraft and passenger drones, as well as the installation of public “Green Chargers” for electric vehicles. Additionally, Dubai aims to transform all taxis into 100 percent eco-friendly vehicles (hybrid, electric and hydrogen-powered) by 2027, positioning the UAE as an emerging hub for electric transport innovation. Amid these advancements, the local last-mile delivery sector also plays a crucial role in reducing emissions through the adoption of electric mobility.
EVs offer numerous benefits in terms of emissions reduction and supporting the growth of the last-mile delivery market in the UAE. With rechargeable batteries replacing traditional fuel sources in EVs, these vehicles are inherently more environmentally friendly, emitting either zero or limited amounts of greenhouse gases during operation.
Estimates suggest that the UAE’s last-mile delivery market is home to over 63,000 gasoline-powered motorcycles, which cover an average distance of approximately 275 km per day. Considering that each motorcycle consumes around 2.5 liters of fuel to travel 100 kilometers and emits approximately 2.16 kg of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide equivalent*) per liter of fuel, it can be deduced that each motorcycle would require approximately 7 liters of fuel to cover a daily distance of 275 km. Consequently, each motorcycle would contribute approximately 15.12 kg of CO2e emissions per day.
When we consider the total number of motorcycles (63,000), the collective emissions amount to approximately 347,684 tons of CO2e annually. Moreover, estimates indicate that it takes between 31 and 46 trees to offset 1 ton of CO2e emissions. This implies that the UAE would need approximately 10.8 to 16 million trees each year to compensate for the emissions produced by gasoline-powered motorcycles. This task poses a significant challenge for any nation.
An ideal solution for last-mile delivery fleets would be to transition to electric motorcycles. These motorcycles offer several advantages, including lower lifetime costs resulting from reduced maintenance requirements and independence from fluctuating fuel prices. Furthermore, when combined with artificial intelligence, delivery routes can be optimized, resulting in faster deliveries and reduced time spent on the road per delivery. This optimization leads to lower emissions per delivery, contributing to environmental sustainability.
In addition to these benefits, EVs in general are highly fuel efficient, utilizing approximately 77 percent of the electric energy supplied to power the wheels. This is a significant improvement compared to conventional gasoline vehicles, which only convert about 12-30 percent of the energy stored in gasoline. The combination of fuel efficiency, high maneuverability and small carbon footprint makes electric motorcycles an ideal choice for last-mile delivery operators who aim to minimize emissions and environmental impact.
Nevertheless, electric motorbikes and vehicles in general face their own set of unique challenges. While electric vehicles have significantly lower emissions over their lifetime compared to conventional vehicles, there are uncertainties surrounding emissions related to vehicle battery production and the electricity used to recharge the batteries. This is because nations relying on renewable energy sources tend to result in lower emissions from EV production and charging compared to nations heavily dependent on non-renewable energy sources like coal and oil.
Fortunately, UAE has already taken steps toward decarbonizing industries and energy production. As the 8th ranked country globally in terms of electric mobility readiness, the UAE is well positioned to reduce emissions from electricity used for EV charging, especially for last-mile deliveries. This can be achieved through continued innovation in public infrastructure and initiatives that leverage renewable energy sources.
Similar environmental uncertainties also arise regarding the battery materials used in electric vehicles. While lithium-ion batteries offer a less toxic and longer-lasting alternative to lead-acid batteries used in conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, the retired batteries from EVs need to be repurposed and recycled once their capabilities are fully depleted. Otherwise, last-mile operators may incur more indirect emissions if the batteries are disposed of incorrectly.
Innovative solutions are being explored, such as battery-swapping concepts, where drivers can exchange discharged batteries with fully charged ones at designated swapping stations. This approach not only contributes to reduced emissions but also helps alleviate range anxiety. However, implementing a comprehensive and interconnected electric ecosystem of swapping stations to facilitate this concept presents a significant challenge.
Overall, electric mobility holds tremendous potential to transform the last-mile delivery sector sustainably and reduce overall industry emissions. However, it is crucial to pair it with supporting initiatives such as robust EV infrastructure and a comprehensive supply chain and disposal process to ensure minimal environmental impact. The UAE is already making strides in this direction by electrifying government and public transport and increasing its greenhouse gas emission reduction target from 23.5 percent to 31 percent by 2030 across five priority sectors, including transport. As operators in the last-mile delivery sector prioritize sustainability, cost reduction and alignment with the nation’s strategic net-zero vision for 2050, electric mobility is poised to become increasingly prevalent.
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