February 20th, 2018
The use of small drones for package delivery could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy if deployed carefully, according to a new study.
The US study in Nature Communications analysed the climate impacts of replacing package delivery trucks with drones.
The research found that small drones help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and require less energy than bigger drones and diesel or electric trucks.
The findings of the study were obtained through test campaigns of two commercial drones. The researchers created an estimate of the energy necessary to deliver packages in different scenarios, taking into consideration future improvements in battery technology and drone design.
Researchers then compared the drone data with delivery from trucks, van, and cars. Emissions from the productions of batteries and the refinement of oil into diesel were included in the analysis.
Drones have traditionally been used by the military and government, but their use for delivery is developing into a new business thanks to lower costs in battery and energy storage.
Companies such as Google, Amazon, UPS and Deutsche Post DHL are currently building programs for package delivery through drones.
Although the commercial use of drones is mostly limited in the US and Europe, the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency are developing regulations to grant more space for companies to use drones to deliver goods.
The two models can carry a single package for about 4km and return to refuel before their battery power runs out.
According to the study, this range of 4km makes the building of a new network of urban warehouses and waystations a mandatory requirement to support this type of delivery system, increasing overall energy use.
The researchers highlighted that the drone`s size, the package`s weight and the kind the regional electricity grid must be considered before implementing this system. They added that drones work better in areas with clean electricity, such as California.
A light package delivered by a small drone can save a significant amount of energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
Lead author of the study, Joshua Stolaroff, said that larger drones could be more energy-efficient if they were charged with renewable and low-carbon electricity.
“The bottom line is to pay attention to life-cycle impacts when designing both the drone and logistics network,” he added.