Drones could deliver lower CO2 emissions, says report

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Commercial drones have the potential to cut CO2 emissions for freight deliveries by half, says a report byInmarsat and Cranfield University(‘UAVs: Unlocking positive transformation in the worldUAVs: Unlocking positive transformation in the world – Inmarsat).

Cranfield used its own modelling and primary data resources to compare the CO2 emissions omitted by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and small light commercial vehicles (LCVs). The results found a significant reduction in CO2 emissions produced when using UAVs for freight delivery. 

An LCV delivering 10 similar sized packages per eight-hour shift over a 5km delivery radius, and following a regular schedule of consecutive deliveries produce 3,394 grams per 24 hours; a large UAV with a 50kg payload operating in the same delivery protocol produced only 1,800g of emissions per 24 hours while a medium-sized UAV carrying a 5kg payload and making separate individual journeys from the central warehouse rather than consecutive deliveries, produced 2,160g.

The report also explored non-commercial benefits of UAVs such as delivering humanitarian and medical aid to remote communities and conflict zones, surveillance to protect endangered animals from poachers and monitoring illegal deforestation or mining operations.

Cranfield’s pro-vice-chancellor of the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, Professor Dame Helen Atkinson, said: “Commercial UAVs have the potential to transform our world in a range of safe and environmentally friendly ways. This report is an important step in harnessing the power of UAVs and unlocking the opportunities they offer to advance air transport activities and services with fast and efficient delivery of goods.”

Over the next seven years, the commercial UAV market is projected to increase from $2.32 billion in 2021 to $11.29 billion in 2028. However, there are still regulatory challenges in allowing UAVs to fly beyond visual line of sight and integrate with other air traffic, as well as the need for well-structured regulation.

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