With diesel under pressure as never before in the wake of the Volkswagen debacle, local authorities may increasingly be obliged to consider alternative sources of power, particularly for municipal vehicles. No one doubts that improving air quality in line with European Union legislation will be a vote winner going forward.
Fortunately, suppliers to the sector, such as RCV (refuse collection vehicle) specialist Dennis Eagle, are responding with a variety of solutions. This company is busy promoting its prototype 18-tonne 4x2 HiUCV (Hybrid integrated Urban Commercial Vehicle), set to go into series production in 2018.
A plug-in hybrid using the same 2.2-litre diesel as a Ford Transit and equipped with four-wheel steering, this RCV can operate in full electric mode on collection duties. What’s more, it boasts a capacity of 15m3 and a payload capability from 8.5—9 tonnes (depending on equipment fitted), yet is claimed to deliver a 50%-plus fuel and hence CO2 saving per tonne of waste collected, compared with traditional RCV designs. Part of that is down to the HiUCV’s monocoque construction, which helps to save weight. “In effect, we’ve taken a body and fitted wheels to it,” comments Dennis Eagle managing director Kevin Else.
Meanwhile, several other RCV chassis manufacturers, including Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, can offer CNG (compressed natural gas) as an alternative to diesel or hybrid technologies. These are bound to appeal to local authorities which can run the vehicles in idealised return to base mode on biomethane generated from their landfill sites.
Making the switch to CNG poses some challenges, however, according to Dennis Eagle technical director Keith Day. For example, operators may have to install their own refuelling stations as publicly-accessible facilities are still thin on the ground. “Also, the weight of the gas cylinders means you lose some payload – something local authorities want to maximise rather than reduce – and finding a way of packaging them on the chassis can be difficult,” he observes.
But there are other ways. RCV operators wanting to stick with conventionally-powered chassis but wishing to enjoy some of the benefits of hybrid technology can always opt for hybrid bodies, suggests Geesinknorba. Its recently launched GPM IV New Vulture RCV body can be specified with a lithium-ion battery to power the compaction and lifting operation in place of the truck’s diesel engine. The battery can be recharged between rounds by plugging it into a mains supply or by the engine, using a power take-off while the vehicle is being driven.
“On a typical urban round, where the vehicle spends up to 70% of its time lifting, loading and packing, this will not normally be necessary,” advises business director Colm McLister. Electric operation also makes the body quieter, he says, which may mean collections can be made earlier in the morning or later at night, leading to better vehicle utilisation.
There is, of course, a price premium to pay. Geesinknorba declines to divulge how big it is, but an educated guess suggests that going hybrid will increase the total bill for a vehicle by 7—10%. That has to be balanced against a claimed fuel saving of 25% compared with an all-diesel truck says Geesinknorba. Note, that rises to more like 50% against any of the 10 -year-old (or more) RCVs still in service with local authorities countrywide, the company observes. And less fuel means less CO2 emissions, but also reduced NOx and particulates too.
Saving fuel also means saving money, something all councils are obliged to do given current financial constraints. But there are other ways of achieving that objective. Many have been employing swap bodies so that one chassis can fulfil several roles, says Andrew Lupton, sales director at salt spreader and road maintenance body manufacturer Econ.
Lupton concedes that the demount equipment weight reduces payload capacity. A demountable gully emptier, for example, may carry 15% less than one permanently fixed to a chassis, he agrees. That said, the cost savings in terms of vehicle capex are likely to make the exercise well worthwhile.
That’s certainly been the case at Aberdeen City Council, which went for Econ’s QCB (quick change body) system last autumn to enable some of its trucks to be used as gritters during the winter but gully-emptiers with Whale bodies when ice and snow were no longer a problem. “Because these vehicles can be put to use all year round they represent excellent value for public money,” says fleet manager Nigel Buchan.
However, such arrangements may be more difficult to implement if a local authority has awarded, say, the highway maintenance contract to one company, under compulsory competitive tendering, and waste management to another. The two contractors may not be willing to work together.
Moving on, councils can cut transport budgets by fitting in-cab systems that influence driver behaviour towards improved fuel efficiently, with less speeding and aggressive acceleration, through visual and verbal prompts. That is a route Gateshead Council has gone down in conjunction with Lightfoot. The authority installed Lightfoot’s equipment on 16 of its 120 vans, and achieved a 20% fuel saving in the first year – a figure that has now settled down to 5%.
But budgetary constraints mean the authority cannot afford to equip every light commercial with Lightfoot, which is typical of the frustration faced by so many municipal fleet managers. Tight limits on capital expenditure – Gateshead faces a funding gap of more than £77 million over the next five years – mean that they cannot always achieve the savings they know are possible.
One way of saving on expenditure may be to buy second hand, a route advocated by Cam, Gloucestershire-based Refuse Vehicle Solutions (RVS). Specialising in remanufacturing RCVs – a process that encompasses everything from replacing switches and hoses to rebuilding the bin lifts – it intends to sell 90-plus used examples this year with a typical age of five years.
“We offer a 40% cost saving compared with a new RCV and we can repaint the vehicles in the customer’s colours,” states managing director Spencer Law. The trucks have the further advantage of near immediate availability, he adds. “Order a new one and you may have to wait six months before it is delivered,” he observes.
Long lead times have prompted RVS also to build up its own stock of new, unregistered RCVs for instant delivery under the RediTruck banner. These trucks are built to a standard specification but leave scope for the installation of ancillary equipment depending on preferences and requirements.
Finally, wages represent a major overhead for all authorities, so councillors may be heartened by a project called ROAR (RObot-based Autonomous Refuse handling), being developed by Volvo along with three universities and waste-recycler Renova. The aim is to introduce a robot that can quietly collect street refuse bins, bringing them to the RCV and emptying them under the supervision of the driver.