Sustainable urban logistics: concepts against urban collapse

More and more people are living in the country's metropolises. And with the increasing private, shuttle and delivery traffic as well as the boom in online commerce, the health burden on residents is also increasing. So, the pressure on urban logistics is mounting. Learn more about the diverse solutions and sustainable logistics concepts that are needed to meet the logistical challenges of tomorrow's city.

In brief

  • Growing cities and rising sales in online retailing: the pressure on urban logistics increases.
  • Instead of a master plan, there are various approaches and logistics concepts for sustainable urban logistics.
  • Urban logistics was one of the top topics at transport logistic 2019, where many prize winners of the competition "Sustainable Urban Logistics" presented their projects.

Pressure on urban logistics increases

Currently, more than 75 percent of all citizens in the European Union live in cities (Source: Statista). The tendency? Upwards. And this trend will further intensify the pressure on urban logistics, which has already been exacerbated by the boom in e-commerce and the increasing demands on air quality.

Because not only the flood of parcels is increasing, but also the quantity of general cargo. The retail sector replenishes its stocks more frequently, more flexibly and more fragmented which is, among other things, due to the click-and-collect form of procurement. Customers can pick up items ordered online in a stationary shop and thus save postage.

Local authorities are responding to the associated increase in delivery traffic and rising expectations of air quality with driving bans and access restrictions. That has already happened in about 500 cities within the EU.

"The pressure on the logistics sector is increasing and not only CEP service providers are affected, but also general cargo forwarders, who urgently need new concepts for city delivery," says Stefan Rummel, Managing Director of Messe München.

"Universities, research institutes and leading logistics service providers are already developing and testing concrete solutions to prevent the impending collapse of inner-city supply," Rummel continues. "Much of it was seen or discussed at transport logistic in Munich in June 2019." These solutions are as diverse as the framework conditions of the various cities themselves.

Sustainable delivery concepts for urban logistics

Among the 2,374 exhibitors at transport logistic—the world’s largest logistics trade fair—were also many award winners of the “Sustainable Urban Logistics" competition that the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federal Environment Agency jointly put out to tender in 2019.

Award winner DACHSER: emission-free delivery of general cargo

Also the logistics service provider DACHSER was present, who defined an emission-free delivery area for general cargo shipments in the city center of Stuttgart and integrated it permanently into its network.

This is how the “DACHSER Emission-Free Delivery” concept works:

  • It uses lightweight and, in the future, medium-weight electric trucks with a total weight of up to 18 tons.
  • These are combined with cargo bikes and micro-hubs.
  • The target? To deliver palletized cargo completely emission-free.
  • Trainees for professional drivers are employed as drivers for the electric trucks, for them to come into contact with electric mobility right from the start.

It is already clear today that the company will extend its delivery concept to other cities as well. "We have developed a toolbox with measures which our branches can use," explains Stefan Hohm, who is responsible for DACHSER’s Corporate Unit Corporate Solutions, Research & Development.

The City Distribution Toolbox for example provides tips

  • on how to cooperate with communities or
  • on what emission-free delivery concepts are available.

However, Hohm emphasizes: “There can be no single master plan for all European cities, because each municipality has its own topographical, political and legal framework.”

Award winner IML: sustainable delivery concept GeNaLog

Also among the winners of the federal competition "Sustainable Urban Logistics" was the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML. Its suggestion: the use of electric vehicles shall also make night-time deliveries possible to extend the time window for the transport and delivery of good. Mornings, evenings and nights can also be used to relieve the load on the city centers as a whole.

The logistics concept GeNaLog (low-noise night logistics) is based on:

  • electric trucks,
  • noise-optimized vehicle floors and loading aids and
  • specially trained drivers.

The companies REWE, DOEGO and TEDi are part of the project. A five-week practical test of the REWE Group in Cologne has already been very positive: "The test phase with the electric truck and the low-noise technologies went without any major difficulties. Local residents were enthusiastic about the low-noise technology and never complained about disturbances," Daniela Kirsch, research associate at Fraunhofer IML, reports.

Logistics concept relies on underground transport

The Fraunhofer IML also received the special prize for the visionary approach of underground transport via pipelines. The "Smart City Loop" transports the goods on load carriers from city hubs on the outskirts of the city to micro-depots in the city center. This way, the goods can be transported quickly, economically, reliably and in an environmentally friendly manner.

Another benefit: The system can also be used in reverse, for example to deliver empties and returns to the outskirts of the city.

A similar project: The Fraunhofer IML project is very reminiscent of the Hyperloop plans in the port of Hamburg. By 2021, the Hanseatic town wants to build a 100-meter-long test section between the Altenwerder container terminal and a transfer station for around seven million euros. A self-propelled 25-ton capsule then moves inside the tunnel, transporting arriving sea containers away from the quay at high speed.

A visionary concept: city supply by air

The approaches of the University of Duisburg-Essen are also visionary. Traffic physicist Prof. Dr. Michael Schreckenberg wants to open up the third dimension for urban logistics.

He is conducting intensive research into the use of delivery drones and refers to the Vision Van developed by Daimler. It has a fully automated cargo space and integrated drones for autonomous air delivery. Just as practical: the Volocopter, an autonomously flying air taxi, or the cableway system of the Bolivian city of La Paz, which is considered the largest urban cableway network in the world. "However, there are still many legal issues to be clarified for the supply of the city by air," admits Schreckenberg.

Conclusion: sustainable urban logistics needs different approaches

There are already a number of solutions to the challenges of urban logistics, some of which have already proved themselves in practice. However, there will be no master plan suitable for all cities and regions. So, it remains exciting to see what measures the individual municipalities and logistics service providers will take in the future to respond to the growing demands for mobility, supply capability, climate protection and emission control.

Would you like to find out more about the challenges and latest developments in urban logistics? Then, you may also be interested in: City logistics: examples of successful cooperations