Waitrose spearheads low-emission gas refuelling trials

Waitrose is to take part in a year-long trial examining how compressed natural gas (CNG) can help reduce road transport emissions, utilising a new renewable biomethane refuelling station in Northampton to ensure supply of the low-carbon fuel.

Waitrose and the John Lewis Partnership have been early adopters of CNG-fuelled transport in the UK. Waitrose currently operates 49 dedicated CNG trucks, some of which have a range of more than 500 miles, with nine more set to enter service later this year.

Waitrose’s CNG fleet and four John Lewis CNG trucks will take part in a trial, due to finish September 2019, that examines the economic and environmental benefits for UK fleet operators to switch from diesel to the low-carbon biomethane fuel.

John Lewis Partnership’s general manager for central transport, Justin Laney, 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.”

Both John Lewis and Waitrose expect the trials to create lower running costs that will generate between £75,000 to £100,000 in lifetime savings per truck compared with a diesel equivalent.

Renewable biomethane CNG can be up to 30% to 40% cheaper than diesel and can typically cut CO2 emissions by 85% as a result. Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) such as the fleet trucks used by retailers haven’t benefitted from the electrification of the transport sector and alternative fuels are therefore desirable to help lower emissions.

Northampton refuelling station

However, a growth in demand for CNG has to be replicated by supply. CNG Fuels, the firm supplying renewable fuel to the Waitrose fleet, has opened a renewable biomethane refuelling station at Northampton to assist with the UK study.

The project has received funding from the Office for Low Emissions Vehicles (OLEV) in partnership with Innovate UK and the refuelling station will open near to where Waitrose and John Lewis have their national distribution hub.

By the time the centre is open, Waitrose will be able to refuel its 58 CNG trucks, as well as six zero-emissions refrigeration units powered by the truck’s gas engine. Performance data will be analysed by a University of Cambridge team.

According to CNG Fuels, the Northampton centre can refuel more than 350 trucks a day and can use mobile trailers if the gas supply is cut off during an emergency. The company’s other station in Leyland, Lancashire has seen CNG demand increase 170% in a year.

Once the trial is completed, data will be compiled into a report for OLEV to assist with the Low Emission Freight and Logistics Trial, which is being overseen by OLEV and Innovate UK to find routes to market for low-emission freight vehicles.

Innovate UK’s ultra-low emission vehicle lead, Venn Chesterton, said: “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.”

Matt Mace

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