Leeds City Council

Biomethane RCV trial


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Vehicle trials

In recent years, a host of vehicle trials has shown using biomethane as a transport fuel has the potential to unlock major environmental benefits and ultimately, cost savings.

Biomethane is a purified version of biogas, the gas created by decomposing organic matter.

Removed of its impurities, the gas has properties largely similar to methane (natural gas) but is ultimately zero carbon at the point of use and can be used to fuel natural gas engines.

It’s also cheaper with renewable incentives attached, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% with drastically lower levels of particulates and nitrogen oxides compared to diesel, due to its cleaner-burning properties.

The UK’s centre of excellence for low carbon vehicle technologies, Cenex, believes now is the time for biomethane to step into the spotlight and become a mainstream transport fuel of choice.

Soaring diesel prices and a government drive to reduce emissions while cleaning up air quality means Cenex (the UK’s centre of excellence for low carbon vehicle technologies) believes now is the time for biomethane to become a mainstream transport fuel of choice.

Refuse collection vehicles, or RCVs, are a prime area to test out this theory.

With hundreds operating in UK city centres, and transport fumes accounting for around a quarter of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, HGVs and buses are a major contributor.

Particulate matter from vehicles drastically affects air quality in our cities, and as a result, our health.

In London there are around 9,500 early deaths each year from long term exposure to traffic pollution.

But operating RCVs on biomethane means they can be run on the product they collect every day.

Leeds City Council ran a year-long biomethane trial between 2009 and 2010, which after a review showed that although bin lorries represented only 7% of its total fleet, they were responsible for 25% of the council’s total fuel use.

Trialling a Mercedes-Benz Econic LLG, with an engine running only on biomethane is estimated to have saved around 49% in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to the council’s Econics diesels counterparts.

This was achieved by using a temporary fuel station, as a more efficient permanent station would raise greenhouse gas savings to 64% with potential saving o 78% estimated if the biomethane was generated at site.

In addition, lower fuel expenditure mean the annual vehicle running costs were estimated at around £2,500 under a diesel equivalent.

Leeds City Council then planned to extend the trial for a further five years, installing a permanent filling station and ultimately hoping to increase the number of gas vehicles within its 1,000 strong fleet.

A simple scaling-up of the trial results could see potentially save more than 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

So what next for biomethane on our roads?

There remain several challenges standing in the way of widespread adoption.

  • Rising vehicle costs
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Fuel access
  • Perception of poor natural gas quality

As vehicle production costs and greenhouse gas emissions decrease, this should lay the foundation for greater uptake across RCV fleets.