The use of automated, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to deliver commercial packages is poised to become a new industry, significantly shifting energy use in the freight sector. Here we find the current practical range of multi-copters to be about 4 km with current battery technology, requiring a new network of urban warehouses or waystations as support. We show that, although drones consume less energy per package-km than delivery trucks, the additional warehouse energy required and the longer distances traveled by drones per package greatly increase the life-cycle impacts. Still, in most cases examined, the impacts of package delivery by small drone are lower than ground-based delivery. Results suggest that, if carefully deployed, drone-based delivery could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the freight sector. To realize the environmental benefits of drone delivery, regulators and firms should focus on minimizing extra warehousing and limiting the size of drones.
(REF.: Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 409 (2018) – doi:10.1038/s41467-017-02411-5)