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Has the red diesel phase-out served its purpose?

Has the red diesel phase-out served its purpose?

In April 2022 the UK government enacted restrictions on red diesel, aiming to reduce usage of the discounted but environmentally harmful fuel.

Prior to the reform, a number of studies had been carried out to ascertain how the use of red diesel was impacting the environment. These studies found that red diesel accounted for 15% of all diesel used in the UK, resulting in nearly 14 million tonnes of CO2 per year being emitted into the atmosphere each year.

On the two-year anniversary of the reform, we examine the impact of these measures on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.

Has the reform supercharged the shift to sustainable alternatives?

Before April 2022, diesel used in road vehicles had a fuel duty rate of 57.9p per litre, with red diesel users enjoying a 46.81p per litre rebate - essentially a discount of 81%. This made red diesel a highly popular choice across several industries including construction, airport operations, manufacturing and transport logistics (particularly in refrigeration units).

Since 2022, the transport refrigeration logistics industry has undeniably shown increased interest in sustainable alternatives to red diesel. This can at least partly be explained by diesel costs, which averaged a 20% increase to fuel costs by December 2022 according to a study conducted by the RHA. By contrast, alternatives now appear more attractive - prompting fleet operators to explore options such as electric refrigeration units and HVO fuels.

As evidence of this trend, since 2022 Marshall Fleet Solutions has now supplied 8 Titan units to a variety of customers including Tesco, Ocado and Samworth brothers. Titan is MFS’ innovative system for refrigerated transport vehicles that stores energy captured from solar rays and converts it to power onboard refrigeration units. In addition, units such as the Thermo King Advancer-e, the first all-electric Advancer unit that enables 0 emission refrigeration, while adhering to the strictest emission zone restrictions are part of MFS’ offering, providing another eco-friendly alternative to traditional transport refrigeration methods.

Making sustainability affordable

More manufacturers and dealers are embracing future-proof offerings in order to align with environmental restrictions and sustainable supply chain commitments. However, the collapse and subsequent rescue of Volta Trucks in 2023 demonstrates that innovation always comes with risk - and safety nets are still crucial if the operators across our industry are to make the switch to less familiar but environmentally promising technologies. Addressing the costs associated with adopting new technology is vital, as we discussed in a recent article.

Meanwhile, affordability remains a major barrier to adoption - especially given the intense cost pressures facing fleet operators. Following the Government’s March budget, for example, industry consensus appears to be that the measures announced fall short of the support required for fleet operators to phase out their use of traditional diesel vehicles in favour of new more sustainable models.

For example, a new Volvo FH fully electric tractor costs upward of £298,000 and operators can only claim up to a £25,000 discount - leaving operators with a staggering £273,000 investment in a technology that may not be a long term solution.

Considering these costs, operators will likely view purchasing a sustainable transport refrigeration unit as a much more palatable alternative to replacing a whole trailer that has not yet fulfilled its lifespan. FRIGOBLOCK and Advancer electric refrigeration units, for instance, are comparatively affordable and could potentially extend the life of current fleet operations, saving money in the short and long term.

Achieving transparency around diesel usage

One relatively unknown outcome of the April 2022 change is that government researchers are now able to more accurately represent non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) oil burning usage in their research.

This is documented in 2022’s provisional emissions statistics report and demonstrates that the numbers are now being correctly attributed to their industries (domestic transport) rather than distorting the other industry figures. Though this will have negligible overall environmental impact, it will allow us to see the real world contribution that domestic transport is making to CO2 levels in the UK. By the time updated data is released in 2026 there should be enough accrued statistics to demonstrate whether the switch over was a success.

In conclusion though there is very limited public research on how the switch has directly impacted the environment, there is evidence to suggest the restrictions, though fiscally strenuous, have had an impact. We are already starting to see the refrigerated transport industry adopting sustainable alternatives in place of traditional increasingly costly options.

While the success of these particular measures to phase out the use of red diesel remains uncertain Marshall Fleet Solutions strongly believes that sustainability is the long-term path to success within the transport refrigeration sector. Our proactive approach has seen us pioneer advancements from the introduction of the highly efficient Thermo King Advancer units to the recent launch of our solar powered energy recovery system titan, and expanding our portfolio with all electric offerings.

More information on sustainable refrigeration alternatives from MFS renewables can be found here: