Waitrose eyes 50 biomethane trucks by end of 2017

EXCLUSIVE: British retail chain Waitrose aims to have 50 100% biomethane gas-fuelled trucks operating in its fleet by the end of year, in an effort to lower emissions from its distribution fleet.

The John Lewis-owned company has been operating 12 “dedicated” compressed natural gas (CNG) biomethane fuel trucks in its 500-strong fleet since January 2017. Despite the vehicles costing 50% more in upfront capital compared to purchasing diesel alternatives, John Lewis’ general manager of central transport Justin Laney told edie that more vehicles would be purchased before the end of the year.

“We have 43 trucks running on dual-fuel, plus 12 dedicated gas trucks, which run on 100% gas,” Laney said. “The dedicated gas trucks are what we aim to buy going forward, the dual-fuel trucks being a stepping stone to dedicated gas.

“We will aim to buy a total of 40 more dedicated gas trucks by the end of this year, and a similar quantity next year, all of which are part of a Government-funded project.”

CASE STUDY DOWNLOAD: Waitrose rolls out Europe’s first 500-mile biomethane trucks

The 12 trucks have been in operation across the North of England and the Midlands and have been fitted with carbon-fibre engine tanks that boost driving ranges from 300 miles to 500 miles.

According to CNG Fuels, the firm that will supply the renewable fuel to the fleet, the biomethane is around 40% cheaper than diesel fuel and lowers fuel emissions by 70% lower as a result. CNG Fuels, a UK supplier, originally launched the biomethane fuel in December 2016.

Clean and quiet

Despite the upfront costs, the vehicles are expected to generate overall lifetime savings of £75,000 to £100,00 compared to a diesel equivalent, but Laney felt that the trucks offer more benefits than just lower emissions and financial savings.

Laney claimed that the vehicles are also quieter than other trucks, and would be ideally suited to operating outside of current delivery and working hours as a result. Not only would this limit the amount of time that the trucks are driving through urban areas while pedestrians and cyclists are around, but it would also help to reduce congestion in these areas.

“If you have a very clean gas truck, it is ideally suited to operate outside of normal hours,” Laney added. “If there was freedom that the truck could operate later because it is quieter it would take it out of the times when cyclists and pedestrians are around.

“For example, the London Lorry Control Scheme restricts the roads trucks can use outside of working hours. That causes heavy trucks to go into London at rush hour. It’s in everyone’s interest that these trucks don’t go in at rush hour but rather other times so they don’t add to congestion. It’s a good all-round solution.

“We’re not asking to go in at 3am, but an extension of one or two hours later, in return for operating clean and quiet trucks, can be positive in driving uptake.”

That’s not to say that the UK Government aren’t trying to promote the uptake of low-carbon fleets. The Government has pledged to accelerate the decarbonisation of freight fleets, through a £20m investment for firms developing low-carbon vehicle projects as part of an overarching plan for all new cars and vans to be zero-emission by 2040.

— Read a full case study of Waitrose’s new biomethane fleet here —

Matt Mace

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