Research & Discoveries (R&D): Autonomous Trucks Can Reduce Emissions

Academics and experts around the world are studying how AVs can improve safety, enhance mobility, and create new economic opportunities, among other transformative benefits. AVIA’s Research & Discoveries (R&D) Series highlights these reports’ findings about how AVs can create a safer and more mobile world.

Need to Know (NTK): AVIA member Aurora recently released a white paper that found autonomous trucks could increase energy efficiency by up to 32%. The research confirms that AV truck deployments can reduce emissions and help the logistics and transportation industries hit climate targets and regulatory mandates. In addition to the environmental benefits, since fuel accounts for the second-highest cost in trucking, AV trucks also stand to bring down operational costs.

Carbon Footprint of Traditional Trucking 

In the U.S., 29% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the transportation industry, with human-driven medium and heavy-duty trucks comprising 23% of greenhouse gas emissions. As a growing number of public and private sector organizations commit to reducing their carbon footprints, emission-cutting transportation innovations are in high demand. 

AV Truck-Enabled Sustainability 

Aurora first identified the factors contributing to energy consumption, including real-world variables like aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance, rate of acceleration, and numerous others. Then, the white paper explored specific opportunities and challenges associated with AV trucks. Finally, Aurora quantified the differences between AV trucks and human-driven trucks by using a simplified energy consumption model. 

The model produced results for three different use cases: human-driven trucks today, a conservative future autonomous truck scenario, and an ambitious future autonomous truck scenario. After accounting for all of these factors, the white paper found that compared to the human-driven baseline, AV truck deployments could result in 13% fuel savings in a ‘conservative’ scenario and 32% fuel savings in an ‘ambitious’ scenario. 

While numerous factors led to the conclusion that AVs can increase energy efficiency in trucking, the most prominent contributing factors were the limiting of highway speeds and the reduction in “deadhead miles” – miles driven on the road by a truck with an empty trailer or no trailer at all. 


This new white paper – coupled with a 2019 study that found autonomous trucks cut fuel consumption by 10% – reveals a growing body of evidence that autonomous trucks can meaningfully reduce emissions and fuel consumption. 

At scale, these benefits would extend beyond the transportation industry. Given the reduction in fuel consumption, not only can autonomous trucks help cut down on one of the largest operational costs (refueling), but this AV-enabled trucking benefit would also extend to helping governments address climate change and private companies outside the industry reduce emissions within their supply chains.

“For states like California — where the transportation sector represents nearly 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions — this research demonstrates that AV trucks like Aurora’s can play a pivotal role in reducing carbon emissions,” AVIA CEO Jeff Farrah shared with E&E News.

To fully realize these benefits, as the white paper points out, coordination among stakeholders is required, with AV developers, OEMs, suppliers, carriers, and policymakers working together. With the right policy framework, autonomous trucks can co-exist alongside U.S. truck drivers to guide the industry and the country toward a more sustainable future.