A team of researchers from the United States have found that electric-powered drones are more energy efficient and produce less greenhouse gas emissions compared to other delivery methods such as diesel powered vans.
As it currently stands, around a quarter of all transportation emissions (415 million metric tons of carbon dioxide) come from medium and heavy-duty trucks. Trucks like these are mainly on the roads for one purpose: to deliver goods.
To test exactly how much energy an individual delivery drone uses, the scientists measured the energy consumed by quadcopter and octocopter-style drones while carrying different payloads.
The quadcopter drone tested was capable of delivering a 1.1 pound (0.5 kg) package and the octocopter could carry a 17.6 pound (8 kg) package. Each UAV had a range of about 2.5 miles (4 km) and both used lithium-ion batteries, the most common type currently in operation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the small drones used far less energy per mile than the delivery trucks that burned diesel fuel. On average, U.S. trucks delivering packages resulted in about 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of greenhouse gas emissions. In California, drone delivery of a small package the same size would result in about 14.8 oz (0.42 kg) of greenhouse gas emissions, representing a 54 percent saving compared to the 2.02 lbs (0.92 kg) of greenhouse gases associated with a package delivered in California.
When it came to the larger drone, the scientists concluded that it is currently better for the environment to deliver larger packages with electric vans or electric trucks.
With current battery technology limiting the distance that drones can travel, the researchers postulated that were companies to adopt more drone delivery technology, packages might end up traveling to several different stops before they reached their final destination.
The scientists concluded that, in order to maximize the potential environmental benefits from UAV package deliveries, companies should focus on using smaller drones charged with low-carbon electricity to deliver light packages. They should also limit how much warehouse space is dedicated to serving delivery drones.
In the package delivery field corporate giants such as Amazon, Google and DHL are at the forefront of exploring the possibilities and feasibility of delivering more of their products via drone. Depending on how things pan out some companies may look to pursue drone deliveries exclusively and do away with other delivery methods entirely.