Commercial vehicle manufacturers around the world have spent a considerable amount of time and money over the past few years creating alternatives to traditional fuel powered vehicles. One of the most popular forms of environmentally friendly commercial vehicles is electric vans and trucks, such as ePower Truck’s Flex L3 which was first sold earlier this month to Newcastle University. The truck is being used as a catering vehicle which delivers food and drink across the campus, and even though it’s road legal it is unlikely that it will travel long distances on public roads any time soon.
One of the biggest issues with electric commercial vehicles is that they don’t have a good range which means that they are not suitable for logistics or delivery services. For example, the Flex L3 owned by Newcastle University can only travel at a top speed of 25mph and 35 miles between charges – charges which take between eight and ten hours to complete. Nicola Watkins, food and beverage manager at Newcastle University, said: “The catering team is committed to ethical retail, so it is fitting that the delivery vehicle we use is as sustainable as the food and Fairtrade drinks we serve. We are delighted with the catering service’s first all-electric vehicle.”
However, even though Newcastle University is benefitting from the introduction of electric commercial vehicles to the market, manufacturers are looking into alternative environmentally-friendly fuels that will allow Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) to complete their day to day tasks. Volvo is just one of these manufacturers who recently announced that they have created a truck which runs off the natural gas methane. The Volvo FE CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) has a 9 litre engine, 320 horsepower and 1,000 ft-lbs of torque that is all powered solely by CNG.
Christina Eriksson, Business Manager Alternative Drivelines at Volvo Trucks, said: “With the Volvo FE CNG we can now offer companies that drive predominantly in urban environments a truck with a far lower environmental impact. Many cities the world over are looking for alternatives to diesel-powered trucks. In the field of refuse handling, for example, renewable fuels are often a requirement for securing a contract. Spark plug technology is particularly suitable for driving cycles where the truck covers short distances with a lot of start-stop traffic.”
Meanwhile, Lars Mårtensson, Environmental Director at Volvo Trucks, said: “Methane gas is the fuel that will become a sustainable alternative to diesel in the long-term. Right now the focus is on working together with the various public authorities and private corporations to draw up the relevant rules and create the right conditions for positive development.” Even though methane gas provides more power to Volvo’s commercial vehicles, they are still unable to travel long distances which means that they are currently only suitable for urban environments or short journeys.
Furthermore, there are currently no charging points that offer methane gas within most countries, which means that for these types of vehicles to be used by the masses there needs to be a considerable amount of investment made by governments and private companies into the creation of such facilities. There is also the issue of whether methane gas is a viable alternative to diesel as at the moment it is sourced from local landfills, as decomposing waste gives off methane gas as a by-product. Finally, it is not yet clear how easy it would be to maintain methane powered trucks which could affect van insurance quotes and the overall running costs of these types of vehicles.
One of the benefits of methane gas is that it emits seventy per cent less carbon dioxide than traditional fuels and is an ideal type of fuel for vehicles that need to start and stop on a regular basis such as rubbish trucks and delivery trucks. John Comer, Product Manager for Volvo Trucks Great Britain & Ireland, said: “The new Volvo FE CNG is primarily aimed at centrally-operated municipal and refuse operators working from transfer stations where there is a renewable source of methane available.”
Even though the technology created by Volvo still has a long way to go before it can be used on a mass scale, it could be beneficial to companies based in cities who want to introduce environmentally-friendly alternatives to diesel-fuelled commercial vehicles into their fleets.
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