Almost every waste collection round in the UK relies on diesel-powered refuse collection vehicles (RCVs). As air quality and carbon emissions reduction become bigger priorities for local authorities, the search for alternatives to diesel is becoming more pressing. Eunomia’s Peter Jones explores.
Recent Eunomia research showed that electric RCVs (eRCVs) are becoming competitive on price with diesel. Despite the higher upfront costs of eRCVs, the significantly lower running costs mean that, over time, the cost of an eRCV fleet is little greater than a diesel one. When the montetised impact of reduced emissions is included, eRCVs appear to be the cheaper – and more sustainable – option.
However, many waste collectors still have concerns about their performance and reliability, and there is understandable caution about switching to a technology that is seen as having little track record. However, it’s important to take into account the cities and regions across the globe that have either trialed or made a full transition to electric-powered vehicles.
Eunomia’s research found that replacement eRCVs would produce only 40 ktCO2e/yr – 290 kt less than their diesel counterparts
The van Gansewinkel Groep (now part of Renewi) lays claim to having introduced the first eRCV in the Netherlands in 2009, later also deploying them in Belgium. 26 tonne eRCVs have been operating in Courbevoie, on the outskirts of Paris since 2011; meanwhile, the Danish city of Frederiksberg purchased its first eRCVs in 2013 and is planning for a fully electric fleet by 2023.
These are relatively flat, compact urban areas that are particularly well-suited to electric vehicle use: a large number of refuse collections can be carried out without testing the vehicle’s battery life to its limits. Have eRCVs proved their worth in more challenging terrains?
Making their mark
In 2018, eRCV manufacturer BYD signed a deal to supply 500 trucks – with a 280 km fully-loaded range and a haulage capacity of 10.6 cubic metres – to the city of Shenzhen, China. Another of BYD’s models is being used in Indaiatuba, Brazil, with a range of just over 100 km and capable of reaching full charge in just 3 hours.
In Auckland, New Zealand, the trial of an electric truck to collect supermarket food waste exceeded expectations in terms of performance, despite the hilly landscape of the city. Auckland’s success led to the launch of the southern hemisphere’s first fully electric residential RCV in Christchurch, capable of covering 200 km before needing to be recharged.
Following a trial in 2018, the City of London has become the first UK authority to announce that it is moving to an all-electric fleet.
Recently, eRCVs have started to make their mark in the UK. Following a trial in 2018, the City of London has become the first UK authority to announce that it is moving to an all-electric fleet. Another trial is taking place in Westminster – but again, these are flat, urban areas whose challenges differ from other authorities.
That’s why a trial taking place in Sheffield, is of particular interest. The urban area is famously hilly, and the council’s boundary encompasses a substantial rural area to the west of the city. The council began the trial in September 2019, using a converted end-of-life vehicle fitted with a new electric drive train.
Performing “as expected”
Based on experience with one vehicle – soon to be joined by another – Sheffield’s Waste Strategy Manager Alastair Black said that it has performed “as expected” so far, with no issues in terms of the time and distance it can complete.
He stated that refuse collection crews have given very positive feedback regarding the quietness of the vehicle, which creates a better working environment. The vehicle is currently operating on a single-speed transmission, which limits its performance on the hills, but Black is confident this will be resolved once the planned twin-speed gearbox is installed.
Local authorities across the UK will doubtless be paying close attention to Sheffield’s findings.
eRCVs are rapidly becoming a viable financial alternative to diesel vehicles.
There are always barriers to switching to new technology, and many waste collectors will still have concerns about whether the time is right to ditch diesel. However, the urgency of the climate crisis demands the emergence of risk-taking leaders to energise wider system change.
The carbon savings of eRCVs are clear: Eunomia’s research found that replacement eRCVs would produce only 40 ktCO2e/yr – 290 kt less than their diesel counterparts.
eRCVs are rapidly becoming a viable financial alternative to diesel vehicles. While they aren’t the only option, the carbon savings and air quality improvements that they provide, combined with the increasing evidence of their operational readiness, and the question waste collectors need to ask is – what’s stopping you from testing them out?