Drones deliver green transportation option

Drones deliver green transportation option
Lawrence Livermore researchers flew test campaigns with two commercial drones and developed an estimate of the energy needed to deliver a package in various scenarios. They also considered how battery technology and drone design will improve over time. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

By getting your next package delivered by drone, you could be saving energy, but only if companies deploy drones sensibly.

New research by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Carnegie Mellon University , SRI International and the University of Colorado at Boulder shows that -based could reduce and energy use in the transportation sector. The research appears in the Feb. 13 edition of Nature Communications .

Drones have been used for years by the military and government, but using drones for commercial delivery is becoming a new industry. Several companies are developing programs for package delivery using drones, including Amazon, Google, UPS and Deutsche Post DHL. The researchers set out to find if is a promising idea for the environment or whether, like conventional overnight package delivery, it leads to much higher energy use and carbon emissions.

To find out, the researchers flew test campaigns with two commercial drones and developed an estimate of the energy needed to deliver a package in various scenarios. They also considered how battery technology and drone design will improve over time. Then, using Life Cycle Assessment, they compared the drone scenarios with delivery by truck, van and passenger car. The technique accounts for upstream impacts, like emissions from manufacturing the batteries or refining oil into diesel fuel.

The researchers found that the current practical range of multi-copter drones is about 4 kilometers, which means a new network of urban warehouses or waystations would be needed to support a drone delivery system. These warehouses, in turn, would take energy to run. Although drones consume less energy per package-mile than delivery trucks, the additional warehouse energy required and the longer distances traveled by drones per package greatly increase the life-cycle impacts.

Overall, the results are mixed, and the best choice depends on things like the size of the drone, the weight of the package and the types of power plants on the regional electricity grid. Drones are favored in regions with relatively clean electricity, like California.

"A light package—say, a pair of sunglasses—flown by a small drone over a few miles, saves a lot of and greenhouse gas emissions compared to a delivery truck. But a larger package—say, a computer monitor—flown by a drone large enough to carry it, probably does worse than a delivery truck," said LLNL scientist Joshua Stolaroff and lead author of the paper.

Are there ways to make larger drones more efficient than trucks and vans?

"Yes," Stolaroff says. "Charging drones only with renewable and low-carbon electricity would be the easiest way. They also might find creative ways to deliver goods from existing retail stores rather than building additional warehouses. The bottom line is to pay attention to life-cycle impacts when designing both the drone and logistics network."

The researchers recommend that regulators and companies looking to get an environmental benefit from drones should consider the systemwide impacts, and focus their efforts on small packages, with larger packages being left for trucks and vans.


Explore further

UPS testing drones for use in its package delivery system

More information: Joshuah K. Stolaroff et al. Energy use and life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of drones for commercial package delivery, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02411-5
Provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Citation: Drones deliver green transportation option (2018, February 14) retrieved 15 October 2018 from https://techxplore.com/news/2018-02-drones-green-option.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
23 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 14, 2018
"a computer monitor—flown by a drone large enough to carry it, probably does worse than a delivery truck"

This is a joke, "probably" ? So which is it ? What kind of research is this ??

I can't see it being worse at all, just way better using a drone, using a truck or van to deliver a monitor or whatever in that weight class will emit by far more emissions than what it would take to simply charge a drone. Not to mention the traffic and stops it needs to make along the way releasing even more emmissions.

It takes A LOT more burning of fuel to power a 2+ ton van than what it takes to power a mere 15-20 kg Drone ! ! Using a drone over a van is a no brainer. Drone wins Hands down all the way !!

Feb 14, 2018
Don't even get me started on how much pollution is being generated producing a single large megaton truck compared to a drone.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more