Oftentimes within our case studies, we discuss how Quantum has helped a certain industry or company solve its e-waste challenges. Because we’re just as committed to reducing our own carbon footprint, we recently sought to determine the most efficient way to transport electronics and e-waste. In this case study, we’ll discuss our recent transportation analysis, and the findings that will help shape our decisions for moving electronics between facilities in the future.
The Project: Understanding the efficiency of transportation methods
Quantum is dedicated to pursuing sustainability initiatives, and that often means assessing the way we’ve always done things to see if there could be a better, more efficient alternative. We’ve relied primarily on rail transportation to move e-waste and electronics from our Edmonton, Alberta facility to our Toronto, Ontario facility, but we knew there were other options available.
The Challenge: Comparing the differences in emissions
We had a hunch that there might be more efficient means of transportation available, but without actually sitting down and plotting out the details, there was no way to know for sure. We decided to test our hypothesis by enlisting professional help.
Approach: Plotting out scenarios to select the most efficient method
For this project, we partnered with Sustainability Leadership, a Hamilton, Ontario-based nonprofit social enterprise that helps businesses measure environmental impacts and pursue sustainability projects. With their assistance, we created three scenarios involving the one-way transportation of electronics between two facilities:
- Diesel powered semi-truck
- Rail and diesel powered semi-truck
- Electric powered semi-truck
The route would start in Edmonton and end in Toronto, consisting of Canadian roads only to avoid navigating through customs in the U.S. The load would be 55,000 pounds (roughly 22.6 tonnes). Here’s a closer look into our methodology.
While the diesel truck scenario required the least amount of calculations, there were some decisions to be made to ensure the most sustainable approach. First, we ruled out the option of gasoline-powered trucks. Most semi-trucks are powered by diesel, which is likely due to the fact that the fuel is 10 to 15% more efficient than gasoline.
Next, we settled on a route for the diesel truck. While there was a path that was roughly two hours shorter, it would require the driver to pass through the U.S. and deal with the potentially lengthy customs process. We determined that the possible delays would likely negate any time savings.
We used data from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s GHG Emission Factors Hub for our calculations. The route wound up being 3,343 km and resulted in the greatest total emissions: 10.82 tCO2e.
Rail transportation is more efficient than by diesel semi-truck, but it still involves trucking because the electronics must be taken from our facility to the rail yard, and then retrieved from the Toronto Rail Yard to the Toronto facility.
This would involve:
- 24.1 km of driving by semi-truck (0.08 tCO2e) from the Edmonton facility to the Brampton Rail Yard,
- Approximately 3,378 km of rail travel (1.11 tCO2e), and
- 14.3 km of driving by semi-truck from the Toronto Rail Yard to the Toronto facility (.05 tCO2e)
for a total of 1.24 tCO2e — or roughly a tenth of the emissions produced via semi-truck alone.
Because electric semi-trucks are yet to reach full-scale deployment, we conducted calculations with the most current information regarding the Tesla Semi-Trucks. These figures represent a hypothesis of emissions that the truck would produce traveling from Quantum’s Edmonton facility to our North York facility.
For the electric truck, we created two scenarios: one with a 300 mi/482 km model truck and one with a 500 mi/800 km model truck. The 300 model would require more charges, while the 500 model would require fewer. We factored charging locations into our emissions, as some provinces have cleaner electricity grids than others. In Alberta, for instance, energy production for electricity comes primarily from fossil fuels, whereas energy grids are cleaner in Ontario and Manitoba. It was therefore our goal to plan refueling points strategically to minimize emissions. One limitation to the real-life scenario is that Tesla is installing Megawatt supercharging stations to best charge Tesla Semis, but these ultra-fast chargers are not available along the route yet.
Our findings showed that the 300 mile vehicle would produce 1.03 tCO2e while the 500 mile model would produce 1.07 tCO2e.
Result: Transportation by Electric Semi-Truck Is Most Efficient
While it should come as no surprise that the electric semi-truck offers the most efficient way to transport goods, what is surprising is that the model that has a larger battery and can thus go further between charges was actually less efficient than the model with a smaller battery. This is due to the fact that charging happens more rapidly when batteries have less of a charge, so the 300 model would allow drivers to recharge in less time and thus use less energy.
While we don’t have the option to leverage electric semi-trucks just yet, it will certainly remain on Quantum’s radar moving forward. What was also surprising was that the rail option was only slightly more carbon intensive than electric-semis. As such, Quantum will continue to prioritize rail where possible. A further possibility to investigate is using electric trucks locally to deliver the shipment to and from rail yards.
For now, studies like this allow us to consider how we can use data-driven decision making to further our commitment to a smaller carbon footprint, which can in turn propel our customers’ sustainability initiatives, too.