Waste Management Review talks to the stakeholders involved in trials of electric vehicles trucks to find out the challenges and opportunities behind the burgeoning technology.
In recent months, electric vehicle (EV) trials have been taking off with private waste management companies and councils across the country.
The City of Belmont, about eight kilometres east of the Perth CBD, was announced as the first site in WA for SUEZ’s fully EV truck.
Two months later, Cleanaway announced the first of two fully electric waste collection vehicles had begun kerbside collections in Victoria as part of a three-month trial.
Hobsons Bay at the time of writing had begun servicing households, while Mooney Valley had also planned to host the vehicle. Another trial in a council yet to be announced will also take place in WA.
The trial aims to ensure the vehicles will be tested across a variety of terrains and municipal settings.
As early as the 2018 Melbourne Waste Expo, WM Waste Management Services announced its plans to test three electric trucks with the City of Casey in Melbourne. These began over the past few months.
All EV-powered drive trains were fitted by SEA Electric with a Superior Pak body. In the City of Belmont, SEA Electric estimates the EVs will save around 35,000 litres of diesel each year and avoid around 90 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
The noise levels are significantly reduced and reportedly akin to a whisper. The EVs are also presumed to offer significantly reduced maintenance, operate for more than 150 kilometres uncharged and have zero emissions from the vehicle.
Cleanaway is working towards zero-emissions vehicles by powering its EVs with its own renewable sources of electricity generated in other parts of the business.
Cleanaway Head of Fleet Paul Young tells Waste Management Review the EVs conversation started with SEA Electric and Superior Pak around 12 months ago. Superior Pak supplied and electrified the chassis and provided the body.
“It ties very clearly into our company mission to make our operations as environmentally sustainable as possible,” Paul explains.
He says that by not waiting for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) solution, Cleanaway also identified an opportunity to be a market leader.
“We have a high level of inquiries mainly from our municipal customers around energy and being green so that is why we went down this path.
“We use the term trial, but the assets we’re building are starting the process. We’re not trialling and taking them out. They form part of our fleet like any other asset and we expect the asset to be operational like all other vehicles.”
Once the EVs have been tested by both SEA Electric and Superior Pak (SEA Electric tests the asset by running the vehicle for around 100 hours), they are sent off to the Cleanaway depot, where drivers undergo training by Superior Pak with SEA Electric.
SEA Electric continues to work with the drivers to optimise the vehicle for performance even as the driver is operating the vehicle.
Paul says the body operation is exactly the same as standard diesel vehicles with no changes to the mechanics of the operation.
He adds that another difference is that batteries will be replaced for longevity compared to engine rebuilds for diesel.
Paul says the noise reduction is significant. When it comes to wear and tear, the brakes are considered regenerative, lowering the number of brake pad changes required.
This means that during braking, rather than solely using the conventional brakes, the electric motor acts as a generator to provide a charge to the batteries. As well as providing a useful battery top up, Paul says this is expected to significantly reduce brake wear and subsequently repair and maintenance costs.
“While it is very early days, from a long-term cost perspective we see the benefit in reduced maintenance and fuel. However this will need to be monitored as the vehicle ages to verify the benefits.”
Paul says the vehicles are compliant with National Heavy Vehicle Law and other standard regulations.
While the batteries have added some weight to the vehicle, Paul says he expects this to shift over time.
For the time being, a minor compromise has been made on payload to gain the other benefits.
Tony Fairweather, Group Managing Director at SEA Electric, says the entire power system is electrified.
This not only includes the battery and electric motor for direct drive to the existing differential, but all of the ancillaries such as air conditioning and heating for the cab, power steering, air compressor for braking and a 22-kilowatt on-board charger.
Tony says SEA Electric began developing the power system (known as SEA-Drive) around 2013.
He says that the company waited for the price of batteries to drop below USD 300 per kilowatt hour (kWh) before coming to market in early 2017.
Tony says that other than OEM chassis selection by the customer, most vehicles deployed to the various councils are largely similar in power system design and performance.
“In the three-axle rigid segment, we commenced with a 180kWh battery pack. However, due to the evolution of batteries and volume over time, our supplier is now able to offer 216kWh in the same size battery pack, which will increase further in the near term.”
He says the electric motor offers around 3500 newton metres of torque and 350kW of power. The vehicles charge in about eight hours (using the on-board charger), but have the ability to charge with (up to) 120kW DC charger and permit about 3500 charge cycles with a 10-year lifespan.
“We run about 700 kilograms heavier than the original tare weight of the internal combustion engine cab chassis which is around five to six per cent heavier. However as the battery density increases, this will reduce over time.”
The trucks are all fitted with an onboard charger, as this segment will typically require a duty cycle to be completed on a single charge, before returning to base to charge with a standard three-phase, 32A power point.
Tony says the vehicles charge during off-peak energy periods in the evening, which is cost-effective for operators, with the option of deriving their energy from non-renewable sources in the grid.
He says that now that the EVs have been tested, the next step is educating buyers who may be apprehensive. Tony notes that in California, buyers are offered up to $165,000 rebate to purchase an electric refuse truck while New York, Texas and Florida are expected to take on similar programs.
He says that given the duty cycle and relatively low kilometres of refuse vehicles, the business case is a no brainer for those in the metropolitan region, with a payback period of about four years without incentives.
He says there is also no risk of battery fires in the electric EVs as the batteries are large and operate at much lower temperatures than smaller EV batteries.
Tony says the next steps are also to work towards increasing government support. He says that Heavy Vehicle National Law regulations around gradeability and noise need to be updated to ensure that EVs don’t have to go to the mainly irrelevant process of complying with Vehicle Standards Bulletin 6 (VSB6).
Michael Strickland, WM Waste Management Services Project Manager, says that the provision of EVs in its service proved an important factor to winning a tender with the City of Casey.
The company currently has three EV compactor trucks as part of its newly acquired contract. It is looking at additional EVs in single axle and has already seen the benefits firsthand of reduced noise.
He says the vehicle uses a lot of power when picking up high speed on the freeway, so it’s about minimising travel time.
While it is still early days for the EV trial, Michael says a few issues are still being ironed out.
“Part of the issue is the trucks were modified and weren’t from the factory floor and with the EV factor, the floor truck had difficulty registering as there are a lot of different design rules,” Michael says.
Michael says initial computer teething issues have been sorted, although the company is getting around 140 kilometres of trips before a charge is needed. To ensure the collection run goes smoothly, start and finish crews work around this, ensuring WM Waste Management Services is able to get two runs a day.
BARRIERS TO ENTRY
A Senate select committee released recommendations earlier this year into increasing the uptake of EVs in the car, truck and bus sector. Some of the recommendations included that the Federal Government develop a national EV strategy to accelerate uptake and manage the risk and transitions of the vehicles.
Dr Peter Hart, former Chairman of Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association, welcomes the shift to electrification but is yet to be convinced of their effectiveness in refuse applications.
“The amount of energy you can store in one litre of battery is still only a fraction to that that can be stored in one litre of diesel fuel, so EVs will be advantageous where energy can be scavenged,” Peter says.
“I think lithium battery technology is advancing rapidly and energy density will continue to increase.
“There are safety issues you run into if you try and get too much energy into a given space. At present, technical standards do not adequately require protection against signs of internal battery degradation.”
He says like any new technology, the EVs will require trial and error to ensure the systems integrate.
“The key success factor for EVs in the waste industry will be to recover more than 50 per cent of the energy used to accelerate the truck from one pick-up point to the next, and to lift the bin. If this can be achieved, the range problem will be solved and the economics will be favourable.”
Charging points will also need to be kept out of the weather to prevent safety risks.
“If you went back a few years, everyone was interested in EVs for long distance haulage, but the reality is we can’t store enough energy so people are now interested in hydrogen fuel cells. In the metropolitan area around deliveries I think EVs will have a significant advantage.”
He says that battery fires are a risk. Lithium ion batteries should be charged using a battery management system that varies the charging voltage to individual cells to avoid over-charging. Peter says that EV trucks must have a well-designed battery management system.
Peter’s call to action is for the development of national (and international) standards that define good practice. He hopes the outcome of trials of EVs in the waste industry will be successful.
Victorian Waste Management Association (VWMA) Executive Officer Mark Smith says that those businesses who are testing and piloting EVs are also testing and piloting the re-sell value of these vehicles.
Mark says that as Australians see cheaper power provided to the national grid, EVs will effectively offer a competitive alternative to diesel and even beat the running costs for standard vehicles in urban/inner city environments.