Is the skip loader of the future electric?

By Dominic Scholfield

THE short answer to the above is ‘yes’. But if you’d like a little more context, read on…

The Government has already announced that all new HGVs up to 26t will need to be ‘zero-emission at tailpipe’ by 2035, and those over 26t by 2040. ‘Zero emission at tailpipe’ effectively means electric, or possibly hydrogen – more on that below.

Earlier in the summer, the Department for Transport consulted on whether any particular types of HGV under 26t should be given extra time to comply. I was mulling this over at the Motor Transport show and took the opportunity to speak to some of the suppliers to niche markets, such as cement mixers and skip loaders. The response? Forget 2035, they are going battery electric right now due to the Low Emission Zones popping up all over the country.

This is what we fed back to the DfT – it’s not particular types of vehicles that might have problems going electric in 2035, it’s types of location. If you operate a skip loader in London or Birmingham, you’ll be going electric way before 2035 anyway – vehicle range is unlikely to be a problem, and the savings on fuel (and LEZ charges) will make TCO cheaper than a diesel vehicle. But if you operate in Cumbria, or Cornwall, it might be a different story.

So what’s the answer for all those vehicles serving rural communities – hydrogen? Well, probably not. Running a truck on a hydrogen fuel cell means taking electricity, using it to make hydrogen, compressing it (a lot), getting it to the truck, then turning it back into electricity, before putting it into an electric motor. All that conversion of energy means you need twice as much electricity in the first place compared to just charging a battery – and that means that, all other things being equal, hydrogen will always be a more expensive solution.

In addition, hydrogen filling stations are not cheap. Some 44t artics on the motorway will probably need hydrogen, and putting hydrogen stations on busy motorway junctions will make economic sense. Putting them in rural areas to top up the range of a few skip lorries – not so much.

What did we suggest to the DfT? Well, first of all it’s too early to tell: at current rates, in 10 years batteries will probably have moved on so much that there won’t be an issue. And just to be sure, subsidise high power charging stations in rural/remote areas to make sure nobody gets left behind.

Dominic Scholfield is an entrepreneur and consultant in low emission transport. He can be found on LinkedIn and at www.mintgreensus.co.uk

Photo caption: Renault Trucks and Recycling Lives sign a contract for the UK’s first ZE skip loaders. The announcement was made last September during Freight in the City Expo 2021 at Alexandra Palace, London

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