Leading by example: Leeds City Council looks to CNG as a clean and cost-effective replacement for diesel

Posted: 5/10/2018
In the August/September 2016 issue of Fleet Manager, we featured an interview with Terry Pycroft, Head of Fleet Services at Leeds City Council. The article highlighted the great work being done by the local authority when it came to adopting green technologies. We’ve caught up with Terry to find out what progress has been made – especially in light of the Government’s recent announcement to end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2040 and its plans to publish its Clean Air Strategy putting the onus on councils to introduce ways of improving air quality. 

The Government’s push to tackle air pollution has come as no surprise to Leeds City Council so it is important for the organisation to lead by example by reducing its own emissions, as well as engaging with businesses and members of the public to reduce theirs. Indeed, the council has also been progressing with plans to model and develop a clean air solution that works for the city.

The council’s fleet department has been on-board with this ethos for many years and Terry Pycroft, Head of Fleet Services, has been leading change stating in last year’s article that they were ‘committed to running the fleet on an alternative fuel’ and that they had been ‘constantly looking at options available to them’. 12 months on and their efforts are well and truly coming into fruition.

Currently, Leeds City Council has 44 Electric Vehicles (EVs) and a number of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) – including 6 CNG VW Caddy Vans – that are running their existing LCNG fuel station at capacity. In order to move forward, there has been significant work done towards the creation of an alternative fuel station situated close to the Recycling and Energy Recover Facility (RERF) that is run by its contractor Veolia. The fuel station will have the capacity to service the authority and other Leeds-based hauliers. This will ultimately allow them to convert 180 fleet vans to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), including 70 refuse collection vehicles.

Meanwhile, the council has approved the upgrade of the existing fuel station until the full third-party site goes live.. This upgrade will allow for further trials to be undertaken across the fleet.

Since joining the council in 2005, it was always Terry’s intention to ‘future proof’ the entire fleet. A Green Fleet review from the Energy Saving Trust in 2007 was the catalyst to making changes and proved to be a key document that’s been referenced time and time again.

Information within the report and options for alternative fuels were discussed and, as part of the recommendations, a number of vehicle pilots were introduced with support from Cenex and LowCVP. These pilots included Smiths electric vans, Transit hybrid vehicles and a range of (LCNG) liquid compressed natural gas operational LGV and light fleet.

By conducting a range of pilots meant that they offered up many differing results. These have been shared with other interested parties. Terry has been keen to support others going through similar scenarios and help influence, where necessary, those associated management teams and organisations on the use of alternative fuels, electric vehicles and their subsequent infrastructure.

In early 2008 Leeds was the first to procure both a 100% LCNG and 50/50 LCNG duel fuel refuse vehicle. The LCNG vehicles were in full use across Europe however there were currently none working in the UK. Terry worked tirelessly with his team to convince the Authority that this option for the LGV fleet would prove to be the way forward in future, however it was risky as it was untested in the UK marketplace.

The pilots of both vehicles ran full term over their vehicle life cycles, the most influential being a 100% LCNG Mercedes Econic refuse vehicle. Initially, the vehicles were being fuelled by mobile fuel pods but later a bid for match funding from the Department for Transport proved successful and infrastructure sourced to pilot LCNG on this heavy fleet and other LCNG variants with a fuel capacity of three tonnes.

The vehicle and pilot transpired from its inception into a major project within Leeds City Council. The proven vehicle data and maintenance information from the vehicle was found to offer robust business sense for the larger refuse fleet. This vehicle has also helped with staff perceptions, its proven it can do the job and do it well matching the workloads and distances of the standard diesel fleet. The vehicle, therefore, provided the impetus to run all the authority’s refuse fleet and perhaps other fleet vehicles on CNG.

From the initial vehicle trials, the CNG product for Mercedes-Benz is now in full operation for various authorities and private sector refuse providers such as SITA and BIFFA with Viridor the most recent to join discussions.

The vehicle has proved that this alternative fuel does work with normal life cycles for RCVs (five years in Leeds) and it has now become part of a ‘longevity’ project and still operates to this day on a front-line route. The vehicle has also helped to open up conversations that vehicle fuel alternatives can make a difference and work as part of the future fleet procurement strategy not only in refuse but other LGV fleet vehicles and their many combinations.

The pilot, the vehicle and Leeds’ commitment to fuel the LGV fleet with CNG has showcased the option to other authorities and private sector refuse providers. Many other councils and private sector refuse providers have visited Leeds to share an understanding of the product, its benefits, and any pitfalls. The vehicle has worked in other local authorities on loan for them to get a true indication of how it works for the service operations and the drivers.
Currently, the refuse or LGV option for CNG is a proven product through the trials to date however, the Leeds fleet, in excess of 1200 vehicles, covers over 33 vehicle theme types. Therefore Terry and the fleet team are currently working on plans to procure suitable CNG alternatives for many of the vehicle themes such as large passenger accessible buses, 3.5t tipper and LGV cages.

Each theme of vehicle brings with it different challenges and these will have to be managed at the point of specification and service discussions where inevitably compromises will have to be made for example with weight carrying capacities or through changes to the services overall.

Another of the themes identified for further work was the small van fleet. Based on existing numbers and the jobs the vehicles carried out including payloads vehicles were now available from providers with proven track records on EV.

Vehicles across these service areas were then ranked by average daily mileages based around the existing offering of electric vehicles with a range of up to 90 miles per day.

Once the vehicles were identified details of the depot locations were clarified. Once the depots had been established the sites were surveyed for electrical capacity. It quickly became apparent that while most sites could accommodate some charging this would prove limited to two or four vehicles per site.

Each service lead was consulted and nominated officers put forward for a fleet clean air and safety strategy event at the Leeds Civic Hall run in conjunction with the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) and supported with vehicle demonstrations as an aid to help ease the transition over to electric. These events have helped with engagement at all levels in the Authority, public and private bodies attended some of the events as an opportunity to network, educate and create difficult discussion and share best practice.

Charging infrastructure at sites has proved difficult. Many sites can accommodate singular vehicles but multiple numbers require additional power upgrades and costly infrastructure work. It was apparent that the numbers of electrical vehicles on the fleet would be limited unless other options were found.

The home charging pilot in Leeds is seen as an additional strategy for fleet replacements long term. The pilot is part of an innovation project supported by the council’s environmental programme board and was to underpin options moving forward following the project. The pilot was to prove crucial in establishing the council’s policy for the home charging criteria, approvals, staff engagement/ feedback and staff payment mechanisms involving cross-service support to implement.

Home charging was undertaken with 10 vehicles over multiple service areas and roles, some of which were specifically assigned to union representatives, the pilot has proven to be very successful with a report currently underway to roll out across the authority.

The EV Fleet has proven itself to work, services are pleased with the results and driver feedback has been invaluable. The home charging pilot allows for additional EV fleet to be procured and charge units fitted at the employee’s home address following a survey.

Influencing others around alternative fuels has been a journey in its own right. To get senior management teams supporting the work has formed part of a communications structure and the cascading of information from the most senior leaders, their support and sponsorship at a recent Green Fleet event in Leeds has proven to be essential. With their buy-in the Authority can make the necessary changes. and lead by example.

ABOUT The Recycling and Energy Recover Facility
  • In 2012, Veolia was awarded a 25 year PFI contract to build and operate the facility.
  • The facility, which became fully operational in April 2016, now manages all of Leeds’ black bin rubbish and can manage up to 214,000 tonnes of waste per year. 
  • Incineration process enables the generation of 11MW electricity, equivalent to power demand of 22,000 homes.
  • It boasts a green ‘living’ wall that provides biodiversity to the area and houses a wide range of plant species and habitat boxes for local wildlife.