Operating RCVs On Biogas – A Realistic Innovation?

Written by Integrated Skills

Mar 15, 2018

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The City of Nottingham in the United Kingdom has started to introduce new double decker buses that run on biogas, and will have replaced 120 of their 300 fleet by 2020. Trials were conducted on RCVs (Refuse Compaction Vehicles) at Leeds City Council and also at Bradford City Council to assess any impact of running them on biogas.
The results were encouraging, demonstrating a saving on fuel costs compared with diesel with no appreciable degradation in performance, and perhaps also less maintenance. Driver feedback was positive too, with the vehicles being quieter and pleasant to drive.
These examples of biogas initiatives around the UK appear to indicate an increasing shift towards renewable energy in our local authority public service fleets. The move has been gradual but momentum is growing.

Characteristics Of RCVs That Lend Themselves To Biogas

RCVs have an extremely high fuel consumption profile – typically running at around 4mpg. They produce significantly more air pollution per hour than other local authority vehicle. The data from Leeds indicated that RCVs constitute about 7% of their fleet but account for about 25% of the total fleet fuel consumption.
Biogas vehicles produce in the region of 70% to 84% less CO2 than their diesel counterparts, depending on the source and content of the biomethane. So, in summary, switching to biogas RCVs would:

  • Deliver greater fuel savings than with most other types of vehicle
  • Significantly reduce the local authority’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • Provide worthwhile air quality benefits

Rationale For Switching To Biogas

There are multiple sound business and environmental drivers behind the move to biogas including:

  • Reduced pollution, especially compared with diesel vehicles
  • Lower fuel costs
  • Increased consumption encourages more biogas production facilities to be established
  • It adheres to the guiding principles of the ‘Circular Economy’

As a significant proportion of municipal refuse collection services are outsourced, the opportune moment to switch to biogas propelled vehicles is at contract renewal time. Incentives may be required to provide financial assistance for suppliers to switch to biogas RCVs – or the services can be taken back in-house in cases where the numbers work in favour of that option. The existing refuelling facilities also need to be modified, or new ones constructed.

Cost Of Switching To Biogas RSV Fleet

Typically biogas RCVs cost in the region of £25,000 more than their diesel counterparts although this differential may decrease as demand grows. With typical fuel savings of around £2,500 per annum, the operational based financial argument alone in favour of biogas is relatively weak, and may require a government funded initiative to bridge the gap so as to encourage the take-up of biogas RCVs. The alternative is an increase in local taxes to fund the switch but that may be politically unacceptable, especially with other front line services, such as social care, competing for the same tax pound.

In Summary

A general switch to biogas RCVs will require a number of factors to align:

  • Ageing RCV fleets ready for replacement, potentially with biogas models
  • Lower cost of ownership of biogas RCVs
  • Wide availability of biogas fuel, possibly generated by the authority’s own anaerobic facility
  • Financial incentives, such as from central government

There is no functional barrier to switching. Biogas RCVs behave just like diesel vehicles as regards performance and handling. Any barriers appear to be purely financial and contractual (existing leasing & outsourcing contracts). Therefore, it is inevitable that we will increasingly see biogas RCVs on our streets within a few years and probably prevalent within a decade. A very realistic innovation indeed!
Biogas offers interesting cost saving and sustainability options to all fleet operators and waste management businesses, even beyond the waste & recycling fleet. To find out more about how sustainable tech can complement your business goals, chat to one of our team at Integrated Skills today. Call 02380 737983.

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