Waitrose to run HGV fleet on biomethane

Waitrose and John Lewis will be running trucks on renewable fuels this autumn as part of a trial to see how using biomethane compressed natural gas (CNG) can help to cut the UK’s transport emissions.

The trial, in partnership with renewable gas distribution company CNG Fuels, will see a new biomethane refuelling station opened in Northampton, close to the location of the Waitrose and John Lewis national distribution hub in Magna Park, Milton Keynes.

The station will service a 58-truck fleet for Waitrose, designed specifically to run on biomethane CNG over long-haul, inter-city and urban routes, along with four John Lewis trucks. Six of the Waitrose vehicles will also be trialling zero-emissions refrigeration units, powered by the truck’s own gas engine, removing the need for auxiliary diesel engines to keep produce cool.

Waitrose to run HGV fleet on biomethane

Methane is the primary component of CNG, meaning that although standard CNG is derived from fossil fuels, it can be mimicked using biomethane produced from the anaerobic digestion of organic waste, including food, slurry and crop residues.

CNG Fuels uses biomethane sourced entirely from food waste to serve heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) either via the company’s refuelling stations in Crewe and Leyland – the latter of which is the first in the UK to be connected to the high pressure natural gas grid – or via trailers than can provide private refuelling facilities direct to customers’ depots. Adding the new Northampton station to its portfolio will enable CNG Fuels to provide fuel to a potential 350 additional trucks every day.

Baden Gowrie-Smith, Chief Financial Officer of CNG Fuels, said: “100 per cent renewable biomethane fuel offers fleet operators the chance to dramatically cut carbon emissions, improve air quality and save money. We are now seeing increasing levels of interest and orders from fleets of all sizes.

“This study will help convince others to make the shift and demonstrates that this is a solution that can be scaled up rapidly within fleets. Fleet operators and drivers are enjoying the ‘diesel-like’ simplicity of biomethane fuel while making a major impact on our environment by tackling the challenges associated with lowering HGV emissions”.

The company states that biomethane CNG is around 30 to 40 per cent cheaper and can provide potential CO2 savings of up to 85 per cent when compared to diesel, as well as lower NOx and particulate emissions.

Waitrose has a history of working to implement biofuels in its fleet, first launching its CNG trucks in 2017. It was reported at that point that the trucks cost 50 per cent more than standard diesel-fueled HGVs, but that fuel savings of £15,000 to £20,000 a year would enable the company to recoup the costs within three years, with predicted lifetime savings of up to £100,000 per truck compared to a diesel equivalent.

The government’s ‘Road to Zero’ strategy, part of the wider Industrial Strategy launched in January 2017, sets out a ‘voluntary industry-supported commitment’ to slash HGV greenhouse gas emissions 15 per cent from 2015 levels by 2025. To achieve this, it is acknowledged that more innovation and investment is needed to develop zero-emission technologies for HGVs to the same standard as for cars and vans.

As such, this project with Waitrose and CNG Fuels is being funded by the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) in partnership with Innovate UK, as part of the government’s Low Emission Freight and Logistics Trial. Performance data from the trucks will be analysed by the Centre for Sustainable Road Freight at Cambridge University, with fuel consumption and CO2 emissions during the trial period, running until September 2019, being compared with diesel equivalents with a view to encouraging other HGV fleet operators to switch from diesel to biomethane.

Justin Laney, General Manager Central Transport, John Lewis Partnership, said: “We're committed to reducing the emissions from our fleet. This study will help us quantify not just the carbon emissions reduction of using biomethane, but also the benefits of using our industry-leading clean refrigeration equipment which we expect to show significant benefits for air quality.”

Venn Chesterton, Ultra Low Emission Vehicle Lead, Innovate UK, added: “Innovate UK are looking forward to the results of this work and understanding the real-world emissions associated with this technology and how it could play a role in decarbonising the UK’s HGV sector.”

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