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Clean transport and infrastructure: an investment in achieving sustainability

Transport, whether it’s on a local or trans-continental level, is not only essential to connecting people and places, but is a vital part of keeping trade and commerce moving and growing.

However, transport also contributes over a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions (see below).

Projections of how the UK can reach net zero indicate that we will need to reduce our emissions from vehicles to zero by 2050. This section provides further information on the UK’s export offer relating to key transport modes and infrastructure that are vital to transport decarbonisation.

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Besides being key departure and arrival points, airports are often the first point of contact that a visitor has with a country on arrival.

This makes the experience a passenger has, both on arrival and departure, something that airports across the world are investing significantly in, whether that be in infrastructure or systems.

UK companies are playing an instrumental role in these developments, both in the UK and at international airports. Our airport-related businesses are world-renowned for their award-winning expertise in delivering the most innovative and sustainable airport solutions.

They are also constantly developing smart technology for future airport needs, including Building Information Modelling at the design stage and biometrics for a seamless passenger experience.

Operating in over 100 countries and in the world’s top 60 international airports, the UK supply chain is involved in the planning and delivery of the largest and most prestigious airport development programmes.

UK companies have significant experience in delivering services in the design, master planning and construction of airports.

The UK is also home to a number of companies specialising in the operation of airports that includes:

  • Leading-edge initiatives in air traffic control management
  • The movement of people
  • Autonomous transit systems
  • Security and specialist equipment supply

UK companies in this space also have an impressive track record in addressing key environmental issues such as the reduction of CO2 and the efficient management of resources such as energy, waste, and water.


The UK offers whole aircraft capability across the major subsectors of propulsion, aerostructures and systems.

As a global player in the sector, and a strategic sector for the UK economy, the Government is committed to attracting the investment needed to deliver the shared global objectives for the sector.

With many of the sector’s global companies having a footprint in the UK, along with Airbus and Rolls-Royce as anchors of the supply chain, the UK offers a deep and diverse supply chain committed to transitioning to cleaner, greener aerospace technologies.

The Government is investing £150 million annually, match funded by industry, to develop the cutting edge and emerging technologies, innovations and manufacturing processes to achieve the step change needed to meet our Clean Growth targets.

By investing in new propulsion including hydrogen, increased electrification of the aircraft and its systems including battery development, lightweight and smart materials, the UK has a rich pipeline of technology and innovation that will provide solutions globally.

Advanced air mobility

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There is a range of activity underway in the overall UK aviation sector to meet the challenge of the net zero carbon target by 2050.

These include the production of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), development of zero carbon propulsion systems (e.g., hydrogen, batteries) and the capture and off-setting of greenhouse gas emissions.

The UK Government is helping develop cutting-edge aerospace research through the Aerospace Technology Institute and its research programmes, which includes the FlyZero project exploring the potential for zero-carbon emission aircraft.

It is also supporting the Future Flight Challenge that is developing new aviation systems enabled by advances in autonomous and electric technology. The emerging sector to address zero emissions is known as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM).

The Future Flight Challenge timeline

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The UK Government is fully behind the pioneering research that AAM requires and is working with industry and academia through programmes such as the Future Flight Challenge and the ATI Programme.

The main aspects to AAM are:

  • Developing revolutionary aircraft and propulsion technology and accelerating technologies that will realise the next generation of aviation.
  • Enabling new aviation services such as drone delivery and Urban Air Mobility.
  • Improving efficiency of air traffic management and aircraft routing through further digitalisation that minimises fuel consumption, including Digital Air Traffic control towers. The industry has demonstrated significant progress on reducing noise and other environmental impacts and will continue to do so.
  • The UK supply chain and entrants outside of the airport infrastructure sector are working in some of the R&D consortia, being awarded funding through the Future Flight Challenge as the new technologies will be disruptive to today’s aircraft, propulsion, and airports’ infrastructure requirements.



The UK has one of Europe’s most competitive automotive manufacturing industries, with five mainstream car manufacturers and eight major premium and sports car manufacturers.

There are over 2,500 automotive parts manufacturers in the UK, employing 84,000 people and producing £12.7 billion worth of parts. 18 of the world's 20 biggest automotive suppliers have a UK base.

In 2019, the UK was the fifth largest European car producer and had one of the highest productivity levels in Europe amongst the major automotive producing nations.

In 2020, the UK was the third largest market for ultra-low and zero emission vehicles in Europe and is a global leader in their development and manufacture.

The UK is a major automotive exporting nation – trading goods and services globally.

Of the cars produced in 2020, 81.3% were exported to 160 markets, and the remaining 18.7% were sold domestically.

The UK is firmly at the forefront of the transition to greener modes of transport, with our automotive industry seen as a cornerstone of the Government’s plans to ensure green growth, of its Levelling Up agenda across all parts of the UK, and in achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

We have laid down plans to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK by 2030, and hybrids by 2035.

The UK has outstanding capabilities in the areas of low-carbon technologies, connected and autonomous vehicles, lightweight materials, motorsport, and niche low-volume vehicle makers, including buses.

Backed by substantial government research and development (R&D) funding, its automotive innovation ecosystem takes advantage of unparalleled expertise in zero carbon powertrains, batteries, motors, and power electronics.

The UK is a popular choice for companies wanting to procure high-quality, low-carbon automotive products and services, and already supplies global car companies with engineering expertise for the development of their new electric models.

The UK has expertise in the following export areas:

  • Electric vehicles – battery electric, plug in hybrid, hybrid, and fuel cell electric
  • Development of new types of batteries, motors, and power electronics
  • Manufacturing of bespoke battery packs at low, mid, and high volume
  • Production of world leading high performance EV components
  • Systems integration of complete electric powertrains
  • Hybrid Motors for electric vehicles
  • Self-Driving navigation and perception vehicle software
  • Lightweighting
  • Connected and automated vehicles, Connected and automated Pods
  • Testbed services
  • Cybersecurity

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Charging infrastructure

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Charging infrastructure supplies the electrical energy required for the recharging of plug-in electric vehicles (EV), at home, at work, or using the public charging network.

The UK, with the aid of private sector investment, is a global frontrunner in supporting the provision of charging infrastructure.

As of 1st July 2021, there were 24,374 public electric vehicle charging devices available in the UK, 4,551 of which are rapid chargers.

The second quarter of 2021 (April to June) saw an increase of 1,584 in the number of available charging devices – up 7% on the previous quarter, with an increase in rapid chargers numbering 292 – another 7% increase on the previous quarter.

The UK Government has already committed £1.3 billion to support the early market and the removal of barriers to ZEV ownership. This includes funding to accelerate the roll-out of charging points at homes, workplaces, on residential streets and along our major roads.

In addition, government is co-funding the Charging Infrastructure Investment Fund (CIIF) – a £422 million investment which is managed and invested on a commercial basis by a private sector fund manager. The fund is dedicated to catalysing the roll-out of a robust and diversified public EV charging infrastructure that is required to support the electrification of cars and vans throughout the UK.

The vision is to have one of the best infrastructure networks in the world for electric vehicles, and we want charge points to be accessible, affordable and secure. By 2030, all drivers will have convenient, stress-free electric vehicle charging near their homes for local trips, and on major roads for long-distance journeys.



The most recent study by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) estimates that international shipping accounted for 2.2% of global CO2 emissions in 20121.

The UK is an international leader in the development of green maritime technologies and leads in areas such as offshore wind support vessels. DIT has allocated over £23 million to 55 projects comprising 208 partners from around the UK in 2021. This represents 33.5m in match funding to support the design and development of Zero emission Vessel technologies and greener ports through technology trials and feasibility studies.

UK maritime science and engineering is addressing a range of environmental issues associated with Green Marine Tech such as novel propulsion methods including hydrogen, ammonia, wind, electric, and small scale nuclear, environmental monitoring, emission reduction, and pollution control.

All of which aid ship owners and shipyards globally to significantly reduce emissions generated by the maritime sector, as freight volumes are expected to at least double by 2050.

The UK also has several companies working to develop greater operational efficiency through propulsion aides, improved hull form, hydrofoiling technology and better ship maintenance. Other businesses are considering approaches to adopting exhaust gas cleaning systems, scrubbers, selective catalytic reduction and waste heat recovery in order to reduce the amount of sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and greenhouse gas emissions.

The UK maritime sector has export potential in the following areas:

  • Vessel design, lightweighting and engineering
  • Consultancy
  • Energy optimisation
  • Clean marine technology
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence application to facilitate ‘greener decisions’ in shipping operations
  • Autonomous and unmanned vessels

Ports and bunkering

The Department for Transport estimates that UK ports collectively handled 486.1 million tonnes of freight in 2019.

Serving as economic hubs, UK ports and terminals are the gateways for 95% of exports and imports for the UK, as such ports are vital to trade. The UK ports sector has invested in modernising its infrastructure, increasing its energy efficiency and decreasing emissions, while serving as a crucial connection between sea and land transport.

The UK’s world-leading port industry companies drive the way in the development of greener more sustainable ports innovation and infrastructure, helping to shape the coastal environment to facilitate the needs of ports, while considering the environmental impact.

Making ports smarter, using the next generation of data analytics, indicators, automation, and digitisation to provide solutions to improve port performance and efficiency will make them more sustainable as a result.

The UK ports sector excels at engineering innovation, smart port solutions, environmental consultancy and design solutions, digitization and digitalization, Internet of Things (IOT), port equipment and sensors, automation and bunkering of low or zero emission fuel.


Historically, rail travel has been one of the more energy efficient means of transport.

An efficiency level that is increasing rapidly, as more funding goes into the research and development of cleaner, more sustainable forms of power, rolling stock and infrastructure.

For example, an electric railway can exploit the growth in electricity being generated by renewable sources.

Where electrification is impractical, or the cost is prohibitive, alternative energy storage methods such as hydrogen and batteries can offer a clean, green solution.

Energy optimisation, clean rail technology, producing innovative and sustainable solutions for network operations, station design and construction, alternative propulsion systems, energy management, lighter weight trains with more flexible space and flexible freight: they all contribute to making the UK a leading force in achieving cleaner, more sustainable, and lower cost railways.

The UK’s drive for decarbonisation is underpinned by green financing solutions and efficient and sustainable innovation, design, procurement, product selection, manufacturing, construction, operations, and maintenance, to maximise the whole-life sustainable benefits for track and train operators and government bodies.

Moving with the times

The development and implementation of cleaner, more sustainable means of transport, including fuel and energy sources and support services and infrastructures, is an exciting and essential area for the environmental and commercial future of the world.

It’s one that the UK Government and transport-related industries and services are ideally placed to satisfy.

Discover how your business could benefit from being involved in achieving more sustainable transport.

For help with your export journey, access our expert guidance, tools and services 24/7 using our online export support.

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