UK Government announces £7 million SME tech fund for road freight decarbonisation

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The UK Government has announced the launch of a £7 million fund, the freight innovation fund (FIF), to help small to medium-sized businesses to develop greener and more efficient solutions for freight.

UK Government announces £7 million SME tech fund for road freight decarbonisation
Photo credits @ Volvo Trucks

The freight innovation fund (FIF) will go to up to 36 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that will work with industry-leading companies to develop innovations to make freight more efficient, resilient and greener and to improve how freight moves between rail, road and maritime transport, the government has announced.

By giving innovators the opportunity to test their ideas, the fund aims to help SMEs roll out new technology and ways of working to unlock potentially huge efficiencies and emissions reductions across the sector. This can include how to organise containers better so they can be more easily broken up for the final part of their journey or how to improve links between rail, maritime and road transport.

The innovation fund was announced last year within the government’s future of freight plan, a cross-modal and cross-government plan for the UK freight transport sector. It targets the 5 priorities for the freight sector identified in the plan, including being cost-efficient, reliable, resilient, environmentally sustainable, and valued by society.

Working to bolster the capacity of the freight network – for example, to anticipate, absorb, resist or avoid disruption and quickly recover from disruption when it does occur – can increase the resilience of supply chains across the country for a wide variety of industries.

The fund will look to support ideas and tech addressing, in particular, 3 long-standing issues in the freight sector:

  • a lack of large-scale cross-industry data collection and sharing between different modes of freight transport, such as road, rail and maritime, that could improve efficiencies and coordination
  • difficulties in inter-modal transport, such as between rail and road, and ways to improve how large consignments are broken up into smaller ones, which could reduce emissions and traffic
  • improvements in freight distribution in ports across different transport modes that could create knock-on benefits with timings, efficiencies, and predictability of the rest of the journey

The plan also explains how identifying a National Freight Network will help to better understand freight movements and their value to the economy.

The FIF builds on previous government initiatives designed to support increased research and development in the freight industry; previous technologies supported in other funds include:

  • Hypermile who developed an artificial intelligence programme that offers real-time feedback to help heavy goods vehicle drivers save fuel
  • Fishbone Solutions developed a programme that uses vibrational data from rail freight wagons and Artificial Intelligence analysis to determine whether the wagons are working correctly
  • CGA Simulation created a tool that simulates urban environments to predict the best place for infrastructure to enable radical development in logistics

Delivered by Connected Places Catapult, the fund will give SMEs access to technical and business support from the organisation.

Commenting on today’s announcement by the DfT Stephen Parker, recently appointed Director General of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) said:

“One consequence of Brexit and the pandemic has been the spotlight that it has placed on the importance of freight and logistics on the health of the nation’s economy. So, we welcome the Road Minister’s and the Government’s further recognition of the vital role that the freight industry plays in underpinning the economy and keeping Britain’s trade moving.”

He also adds that BIFA hopes that the “£7.0 million shared by up to 36 small and medium-sized enterprises will be enough to help them work with industry-leading companies to develop new technology and working practices that enable efficiencies to be developed, which help to reduce emissions across the sector”.

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