St Helens pioneers low-emission refuse collection vehicle

St Helens Borough Council is the first in the UK to introduce a custom-built hydrogen-electric vehicle for waste collection, reducing air and noise pollution. Emma Love reports.

The hydrogen industry is developing fast in the north of England, both in terms of production and usage. Between the East Coast Cluster and Hynet in the North West, the UK’s industrial decarbonisation projects, low carbon hydrogen production and infrastructure are being pioneered at scale.

St Helens hydrogen-electric waste collection vehicleThis momentum is reflected in local authority waste management infrastructure, with St Helens Borough Council in Merseyside recently incorporating a custom-built, hydrogen-fuelled vehicle into its refuse collection fleet. The local authority says the venture supports the hydrogen industry’s growth while benefitting local residents in terms of noise pollution and carbon emissions.

St Helens Borough Council had been in discussion with waste management company FAUN Zoeller UK (FZUK) about the hydrogen RCV for a couple of years, following its development and trial in Germany. Using an electric motor for drive and a hydrogen fuel cell to charge the battery while the vehicle is active, the FZUK Bluepower emits no carbon while in operation – a significant improvement on traditional, diesel-powered RCVs, which emit 330 kilotonnes of CO2-equivalent each year.

According to a 2020 Eunomia study, every home in the UK is visited by at least one traditional RCV each week; wider uptake of hydrogen vehicles such as St Helens’ would certainly help to decarbonise the sector.

The vehicle is the first in the UK to obtain Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) status, with FZUK navigating a ‘very stringent and rigorous development’ process. Commercial Director Stewart Gregory explains: “there is a huge amount of ‘red tape’, testing, and many, many processes to follow to gain this status. It means that our production company – Enginius – is classed in the same way as the other big truck manufacturers, such as Mercedes, Scania, or DAF.”

FZUK says it is in talks with other UK local authorities regarding H2 products, as well as private sector clients: “A standard electric vehicle (EV) is not always suitable for all applications. The Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Refuse Collection Vehicles (HFCEV) that we offer can provide a bigger range, flexibility, and greater KWH for the relevant operations. We are presenting to potential clients on a weekly basis, whether at our Customer Experience Centre (CEC) in Redditch, on Microsoft Teams, or at strategic locations across the UK.”

Alongside the elimination of RCV emissions, St Helens’ partnership with FZUK is unlocking development opportunities in green skills for staff, with the firm providing dedicated on-site support and training.

The HFCEV will also be the subject of training programmes in the community and with local schools and colleges, giving young people the chance to learn about hydrogen and green technology for years to come.

St Helens Borough Council is also pursuing electric vehicles as a means of reducing emissions with a small number of small electric vans among its over 200-strong waste collection fleet. The local authority has also trialled electric kerbside RCVs and has largely adopted electric small plant equipment. If additional funding is identified, it hopes to add more hydrogen RCVs to its collection.

St Helens emphasises that while it does not envisage fully recovering the additional cost to the vehicle, it has purchased ‘more than a vehicle’. The venture has bolstered the region’s growing hydrogen economy, bringing further investment to the area: “It is also predicted that, as the sector develops, the cost of hydrogen and vehicles will be reduced. FZUK has already developed a dedicated hydrogen vehicle factory and hopes that by 2027 it will be producing over 2,500 hydrogen vehicles a year.”