Is urban drone delivery energy efficient?

According to a new study conducted at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg by Dr Thomas Kirschstein, drones consume comparatively high amounts of energy in densely populated areas, and their range is strongly influenced by wind conditions. In rural areas, however, they may be able to compete with diesel-powered delivery vans. The study has been published in the journal “Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment”.

During the Corona pandemic many people are increasingly ordering online instead of going into shops. More and more parcels are being shipped, pushing many delivery services to the limits of their capacity. One possible solution are drones that can automatedly deliver parcels to customers from a delivery depot. What sounds like science fiction could soon become reality: “Google, DHL and Amazon have been experimenting with this concept for several years and launched the first commercial pilot projects in the USA and Australia in 2019,” says Dr Thomas Kirschstein from MLU’s department of Production and Logistics. He has calculated whether current drone models are ready to compete with vans in terms of energy consumption. “When evaluating the hypothetical use of delivery drones, attention has frequently only been on whether drones could deliver parcels faster and cheaper. Sustainability aspects, on the other hand, played less of a role,” explains the economist. 

In his new study, Kirschstein compared the energy consumption of drones with that of the diesel-powered delivery vans and electric transport vehicles currently used by parcel carriers. In a simulation, he hoped to discover which vehicle had, under which circumstances, the best energy balance. Basing his calculations on the greater Berlin area, he played through several scenarios. “Among other things, we investigated how the number of parcels per stop and the traffic situation impacted energy consumption,” the researcher explains. He expanded his calculations to include the emissions produced through the generation of electricity or the consumption of diesel. 

Source: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany

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