How sustainable and optimised planning for truck journeys can succeed

Efficient planning work for truck journeys is particularly important when transporting a wide variety of products. This guarantees that logistics specialists move goods while consuming as little energy as possible. The goal is to act in a sustainable and resource-efficient way. How is it possible to reduce fuel consumption when using trucks, select the right type of trailer and operate a vehicle both economically and ecologically?

Paper roll inside of a truck

Efficient planning for truck journeys: diesel fuel is the cost driver

Trucks accounted for 3.1 billion of the total transport services provided for goods in Germany in 2022.1 Truck logistics operators have always tried to work as efficiently as possible in terms of energy, if only for economic reasons, because diesel fuel costs alone already account for one third of the entire operating costs for trucks. “If we’re talking about a 40-tonne articulated vehicle, such as the ones that we use at Rhenus Bulk Road, the costs entailed by operating a truck for about 450 kilometres every day are about EUR 280 at this time,” Adrian Barten explains (correct in October 2022). In order to keep these costs as low as possible, the specialist logistics company is adopting various measures to achieve ideal planning for its journeys. Firstly, truck drivers are trained to drive their vehicles efficiently and, secondly, they are sensitised so that they pay attention to making their fuel consumption as sustainable as possible by assessing their telematic data. The figure that is calculated is communicated to the drivers in their vehicle in a transparent and clear way via suitable monitor systems. Alongside these initial steps, there are other opportunities for generating earnings in as sustainable a manner as possible with vehicles that are already in active service.


Facts and figures about trucks in Germany (correct in 2022):

  • Trucks account for approx. 72 per cent of all transport services for goods traffic, according to calculations.2
  • Of the approx. 3.55 million trucks registered, about 3.3 million have a diesel engine.3
  • More than 43,000 trucks with an electric drive train had been registered by the beginning of the year.4


Alternative drive systems for road goods traffic: a practical report from 2024

Rhenus almost exclusively operates vehicles with the Euro 6 emissions class for its road transport services. However, alternative drive systems for trucks have already been playing a major role at the company for several years to enable Rhenus to achieve its climate goals.

“We don’t believe that there’s one single drive technology that’s correct at the moment and there won’t be one in the near future either. However, we know that there’s no substitute for alternative drive systems! That’s why we’re already using what’s available on the market and we’re cooperating closely with major OEMs as a project and pilot partner. As a result, we’re testing and trying out new vehicle models with alternative drive systems in field trials in order to play a pioneering role as a logistics specialist. We want to gain our own experience by doing this, share what we’ve learnt, test various fields of application and at the same time transport goods on the roads in a more efficient and climate-friendly manner,” Barten reports.

Planning truck operations: restricting empty journeys

It is true that alternative drive systems are more environmentally-friendly than vehicles with traditional power trains, but they do not automatically solve one central problem: empty runs. According to statistics provided by the Federal Motor Transport Authority, German trucks completed approx. 250 million journeys when transporting goods in 2022 – and more than 152 million of these were empty trips – i.e. journeys without any goods on board. This corresponds to a quota of about 60 percent (correct in 2023)5. Empty journeys are one result of flows of goods that are based on varying and unevenly distributed levels of demand. That is to say, goods are frequently delivered to warehouse and transshipment points where it is hard for schedulers to find loads for the return trip. This problem is usually caused by geographical/structural issues and this is an important factor that needs to be considered when planning truck journeys. In order to handle orders and load new goods, the truck normally has to first travel along a particular route without any load on board. Small and medium-sized companies are particularly forced to contend with empty or half-empty vehicles and this wastes resources like time and money and also pollutes the environment unnecessarily. Restrictions on empty runs therefore mean greater benefits because it is possible to complete more transport operations on the same route while keeping costs constant and without affecting the fuel consumption.

Vehicle equipment and scheduling as keys to success

In addition to selecting the right drive technology and having the suitable type of trailer, optimal planning of the logistical workflows is a crucial factor for organising smooth and energy-efficient truck operations. Adrian Barten explains how Rhenus Bulk Road is implementing this method. “If logistics routes cannot be planned efficiently, we try to combine the most diverse types of loads within our own vehicle fleet. Routes cannot always be paired – that is to say, the requirements at the unloading point aren’t always the same as those at the new loading point. We’re therefore not only considering different drive technologies to transport our goods, but also a wide variety of different types of trailers.”

Schedulers in particular make an important contribution to saving CO2 emissions. One major part of this involves sensibly combining particular routes for the relevant vehicles that are available in order to keep the proportion of kilometres travelled by empty trucks along the route as low as possible. By using digitalisation and optimising the TMS systems daily, logistics specialists will be able to save large quantities of CO2 emissions in future too.



“By using flexible types of trailers, we can minimise the proportion of empty journeys travelled by trucks and our road operations are therefore more eco-friendly overall.”

Adrian Barten | Project Manager at Rhenus Bulk Road

Different trailers, various factors

Special types of trailers also play their part in making road goods traffic more environmentally-friendly. If very different kinds of loads are combined on one trailer, for example, this reduces the proportion of kilometres covered by the vehicle when empty and trucks can then be used more economically and more efficiently.

Another combination, which is not frequently encountered, is the sliding floor trailer with a Joloda rail system. This makes it possible to lift heavy paper rolls into the cargo space and then move them to the correct position inside the vehicle on the Joloda rail by means of leverage and properly secure them there. In addition to transporting paper rolls, the trailer can be utilised for other goods, e.g. bulk materials. This makes it an extremely flexible combination and it can also prevent many kilometres covered by empty vehicles. For example, this combination of trailers makes it possible to initially supply a paper mill with wood chips for production and then directly transport finished paper rolls on the return journey and so make the planning work for the journeys eco-friendly.

By considering the type of trailers, it is possible to combine several orders at the same time and use efficient planning work for the truck journeys.

Digitalisation for clever planning work for truck runs

However, how does a logistics specialist discover which routes give rise to empty journeys? It is often the case, particularly with large companies, that the individual journeys and trips are not managed by a general transport management system, but only in the special programmes that are used by individual departments. The solution here is digitalisation. Enormous amounts of data occur in the entire logistics sector. If used correctly, this data offers huge potential both for freight forwarding companies and schedulers as well as logistics companies in order to reduce the number of empty journeys even further with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and therefore make the planning work for truck journeys as ideal as possible. Those who use logistics data not only create improved networking for truck drivers and shippers, but can also manage all the important stages in the logistics chain in great detail. Digital Tracking & Tracing, which is a kind of tracking system for consignments, makes it possible to gather real-time information such as the payload capacity, arrival times or any delays involving the vehicles, for example. The trucks are equipped with a GPS tracker so that their location is clear at all times. The journeys or departures and trips on the relevant trips can then be used even more effectively through these calculations – to provide ideal route planning.

Conclusion: make truck logistics more resource-saving through optimised journey planning

Side view of an open Rhenus truck

Logistics specialists can save more resources in their processes and their truck logistics operations for road transport services by clearly considering different options and ideally combining them. Even if there are already efforts to switch goods transport services to other means of transport that create fewer emissions, e.g. rail or inland waterway services, truck logistics will continue to be extremely important during the next few years. This is illustrated by the fact that most goods are transported by truck – instead of on water – because of the current low water levels on European waterways. In the light of this, it is particularly important for logistics specialists to enhance their services in a sustainable and forward-looking way in order to continue to be competitive. Clever planning work for journeys also creates greater efficiency and sustainability on roads. Rhenus Bulk Road is able to offer all the means of transport mentioned here to provide individual and customised services so that sustainable and optimised planning work for truck journeys is a success story.

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