Delivery by drone requires up to 94% less energy than delivery by van

According to a recently published scientific study, delivery by drone requires up to 94% less energy than delivering the same package by a diesel-powered van. Even a small electric car is less economical per delivered package than a drone. Only an electrically powered cargo bike is slightly more energy efficient.

Energy model

The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Cell. According to the researchers, there is an increasing need for knowledge about the energy requirements of drone-based delivery methods compared to other delivery methods such as large and small delivery vans, electric cars, and electric cargo bicycles.

Therefore, the researchers created a database containing data from 188 drone delivery flights, varying package weight, flight speed, and altitude. The average distance was 2 km as the crow flies. An energy model was then made based on that data, so the results could be compared with regular delivery options.

Delivery by drone up to 94% more energy efficient

The energy model shows that delivering a 0.5 kg package using an electric quadcopter requires 0.08 MJ/km. This translates into an average emission of 70g CO2 per delivered package.

Only an electric cargo bike ensures even fewer emissions. An electric delivery van, on the other hand, quickly produces twice as many emissions per package as a drone. A medium-sized diesel truck is the least energy-efficient option.

The researchers emphasize that the drone that was the model for the calculations (a DJI M100) is not optimized for parcel delivery. Nevertheless, the researchers conclude that drone delivery in a busy urban environment can be up to 94% more energy efficient per package than delivery by diesel-powered trucks. That percentage drops to 29% compared to small electric vans.

Delivery By Drone Requires Up To 94% Less Energy Than Delivery By Van

VTOL guzzles energy

Another conclusion is that vertical take-off and landing () – characteristic of a multirotor drone – costs a lot of energy. The researchers think that in the case of drone delivery, up to 34% of energy can be saved by avoiding this as much as possible.

Cover photo for illustration. Source: Verizon/UPS/

This article first appeared on Dronewatch and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

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Wiebe de Jager
Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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