Big drivers for eco-revolution

27th October 2017

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With environmental legislation tightening, truck and van manufacturers are exploring greener options. Nigel Carr explains the drivers for the new eco-technology being trialled in the commercial vehicle sector.

Commercial vehicles are set for an eco-revolution. Mounting environmental concerns over the past decade have led to tougher emissions legislation, with the UK government announcing this summer that sales of new diesel and petrol cars and vans will be banned from 2040.

It is the latest in a series of policy decisions aimed at reducing vehicle pollution. The most recent EU emissions regulations – Euro VI, introduced in 2014 – upped the game considerably for truck and van manufacturers. Tests show that the technology used by Euro-VI-compliant vehicles has virtually eliminated particulates.

However, with plenty of older vehicles still on the road, some cities are taking their own lead on cutting pollution. A more urbanised population and the trend for online shopping has increased commercial vehicle traffic dramatically on urban roads, and charging schemes such as low emissions zones (LEZs) have been introduced for high-polluting vehicles.

London, which has operated an LEZ since 2008, is introducing a new ‘toxicity charge’ this October, meaning vehicles not meeting Euro IV emissions standards will have to pay £10 on top of the existing congestion charge whenever they drive into the capital. Mayor Sadiq Khan is also planning an ultra LEZ for 2019, which will mean a £12.50 daily charge for vans and £100 for HGVs not meeting Euro VI standards.

Other UK cities have indicated they will follow, while, internationally, Athens, Madrid, Mexico City and Paris have pledged to ban diesel engines from 2025.

This tightening legislation is fuelling a new wave of green technology from truck and van manufacturers. Urban deliveries are a key focus area, and that’s why there has been a leap forward in electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

In the UK, Ryder will shortly take delivery of the Iveco Daily Electric van, a 100% electric vehicle with zero emissions. It is offered with one, two or three batteries; more batteries mean a lighter payload but allow longer-range deliveries.

This highlights the large weight difference between alternative fuel systems and conventional engines, which puts the former at a disadvantage. To counter this, the UK government is currently running a consultation on extending the legal gross vehicle weight for standard licences from the current 3.5-tonne threshold to 4.25 tonnes for electric vans. For long-haul operations, hybrid engines are more attractive, particularly diesel-electric. These vehicles use diesel power on trunk roads, then switch to electric at city outskirts to meet LEZ requirements. DAF unveiled a concept vehicle last year.

A greener form of hybrid is hydrogen-electric. In the US, Ryder recently became distributor for the Nikola One hydrogen-electric truck. Energy is supplied ‘on-the-go’ by a hydrogen fuel cell. Its appeal lies in reduced operating costs – the manufacturer estimates half that of diesel – and zero emissions.

Gas engines are another alternative fuel system, offering reduced emissions, quieter operation, fuel costs a third lower than diesel, and a substantial range. The Iveco Stralis LNG (liquefied natural gas) tractor unit recently completed the 1,347km journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End on a single fill, pulling a laden trailer. Ryder is currently trialling the Stralis LNG with major customers.

Beyond engines, other emerging green technologies include kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS), which recover and store energy generated by braking. Other new features such as vehicle tracking also have an indirect environmental benefit, improving fuel economy and operational efficiency. Every small innovation contributes towards cleaning up our air.

Nigel Carr is head of engineering at Ryder UK, which operates a fleet of nearly 20,000 vehicles

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