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Cambridge City Council

Councils trial plant-powered bin lorries in latest step towards decarbonisation

22 September 2022

A TRIAL to power eight of South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City’s bin lorries using biofuels has taken place – cutting their net carbon emissions by 90%.

During the past two months, Greater Cambridge Shared Waste, a partnership between South Cambridgeshire District and Cambridge City Councils, ran the eight vehicles on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) instead of diesel.

The councils are transitioning their fleet of around 50 bin lorries to electric and alternative fuel vehicles to reduce net carbon emissions. Currently, a significant proportion of the waste service’s, and therefore the councils’, carbon emissions originate from diesel bin lorries. Two fully electric bin lorries are already being used in the city of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire and a solar farm is planned at the service depot to be able to charge more of them in future.

Depending on the analysis and results of the HVO trial, and once a sustainable fuel source is secured, the Councils could purchase further vehicles which could be powered by HVO. This would be an interim solution ahead of more electric or hydrogen trucks joining the fleet as and when they become available from manufacturers, and in-line with the depot charging facilities becoming operational.

Using HVO results in a 90% reduction in net CO2 emissions when compared to running the same vehicles on normal diesel.

HVO is an enhanced form of pure biodiesel, refined from more than 90% waste and residue oils, and the net CO2 emissions from HVO are rated near zero or “carbon neutral” by the Government, to account for the CO2 absorbed by the source of the HVO which is largely plant matter, before it is made into HVO. Each delivery is accompanied by a certified statement of bio sustainability in accordance with the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation rules and EU RED II directive. No modifications are required to use HVO in the bin lorries; they can simply be filled with HVO rather than diesel

The use of HVO provides Greater Cambridge Shared Waste and the two councils with a practical interim solution, which reduces net carbon emissions, as further electric bin lorries, or hydrogen vehicles, are purchased for the fleet. The plan is to transition some of the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste diesel bin lorries to using HVO, subject to costs and availability of a sustainable supply chain, until they are replaced with electric or hydrogen versions.

The trial comes just after the service’s second fully electric bin lorry entered service. The Faun Zoeller E-Rotopress, which has a revolving body to help compact waste, has been collecting waste from streets across the city and district since June 2022. It joined a Dennis Eagle eCollect, which was Cambridgeshire’s first 100% electric bin lorry and has been collecting recycling from Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire residents since November 2020. A third electric bin lorry is on order.

There are already solar panels installed on top of the Greater Cambridge Shared Waste Service’s Depot at Waterbeach, which are used to charge fully electric vans used by members of the team. However, there is not enough capacity in the local electrical grid to charge any more than three electric bin lorries. That is why, back in January this year (2022), proposals for a solar farm to power electric bin lorries were included in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s latest budget plans. Both councils will also contribute financially to the solar farm scheme. Plans for the solar farm continue to progress.

South Cambridgeshire District Council’s Lead Cabinet Member for Environment, Cllr Brian Milnes, said: “Our Shared Waste Service continues to lead the way when it comes to transitioning waste collections to becoming cleaner and greener. Having had the first electric bin lorry in Cambridgeshire enter service in 2020, this was followed up by our second electric truck starting to collect waste just a few weeks ago. Hot on the heels of that is this trial of biofuel. This type of fuel achieves an impressive 90% reduction in net carbon emissions when compared to diesel. We will now be analysing the results of the trial, and continuing to look at all the options as we work towards cleaner waste and recycling collections. Using this type of fuel could be a useful practical interim solution as we transition the fleet towards electric or hydrogen vehicles as the long-term aim.”

Cllr Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Environment, Climate Change, and Biodiversity for Cambridge City Council said: “It’s clear just how much importance our waste service and the councils place on investing in new technologies and solutions to reduce our carbon emissions. We are not prepared to simply continue running diesel trucks well into the future until the entire fleet is electric, and this trial of vegetable oil-based fuel provides a useful interim solution. We really are leading the way both locally and nationally as a waste collection service in doing everything we can to work towards our net zero carbon targets.”

Greater Cambridge Shared Waste collects recycling and rubbish from around 127,000 households.