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Although the solid waste industry was one of the early players in the transition to diesel fuels, there are still many unanswered questions about the direction of alternative fuel markets in the sector.

To better understand the direction of the industry, Stifel hosted a fireside roundtable with three leading manufacturers of Class 8 (heavy duty) truck chassis that adopted alternative fuel technologies for use in solid waste collection, including CNG (compressed natural gas) , BEV (battery electric vehicle) and FC (fuel cell hydrogen).

The discussion focused on the current state of affairs, the necessary infrastructure, safety issues to consider, operating expectations and return on investment (ROI).

“It took us a while to [alternative fuels] general public, ”said James Johnston, president of Hagerstown, Indiana Coach. “I think what has happened is that there is so much unknown; there has been so much massive investment and infrastructure compared to the [current diesel] gas program for it to work properly, and people are really waiting to see.

Currently, up to 30 percent of solid waste fleets going to North America are CNG, but panelists unanimously agreed that adoption has been slowed in large part due to pressure from states and municipalities for zero. program.

Johannes Kirchhoff, managing partner of the German company Kirchhoff Group, said the same was true in Europe, where CNG has experienced minimal market penetration due to the region’s strong push towards emission-free urban vehicles.

“We measure carbon dioxide (CO2) in [European] cities, and if they exceed a certain limit, then the cities must stop traffic. There is therefore strong pressure from the authorities to move towards emission-free vehicles, ”he said. “Despite the [penetration in the U.S.], the history of CNG never really began [here]. The quality of the engine and CNG did not match, and there were issues with the cylinder heads. It hasn’t taken off in the garbage industry.

With the general evolution of the industry towards new fuel technologies, concerns regarding the infrastructure requirements for BEV and FC have arisen. CNG fleets had similar difficulties in the beginning with operational limitations, but operators learned how to establish orderly parking lines and refueling areas, training for drivers on how to use a CNG truck in fuel range limits and best practices for service and repair technicians. Johnston says something similar can be replicated for BEV and FC.

“It’s a huge investment,” says Kirchhoff. “If you imagine, there is already a large gas network, but of course you can allow this network to transport some hydrogen as well. For example, in Europe it is already allowed up to 10 percent. [You can] add hydrogen to the grid very easily, and in some areas they have a grid where you can only work with hydrogen. Of course, it’s a big investment if 20% or 30% of the fleets switch to this energy, but it has to be done if you want emission-free traffic.

Gary LaLonde, Vice President of Truck Sales for Canada The Lion Electric Co. agrees, saying, “If you take a look at the concept of distributed energy, there is a possibility for those who have space availability to generate some of their own energy.” So that takes some of the pressure off the grid that’s at stake today. [However], the reality is that if everyone tried to switch to electric today [both passenger vehicles and heavy-duty vehicles], the grid is not made for that.

“The advantage is [utility companies] are already investing in network growth to ensure they will be able to meet this demand. We have spoken with some operators, and the reason they have not invested in CNG is precisely because of the infrastructure costs, but also because we see it as a gateway technology to move from the diesel world to the world. electric.

In addition to addressing the infrastructure of alternative fuels, additional investments are needed in training and facilities before these solutions become mainstream.

“When you take a CNG infrastructure that has all the booths lined up and people have marked and coordinated their courses and they have processes in place to get into the facility, to leave the facility, we’re better aligned than we are. ‘ve never been. to try to manage something like that in the future, ”says Johnston.

LaLonde adds: “The Waste World is the perfect app for [BEV] because these vehicles are urban vehicles. These are not road vehicles that travel 500 miles a day, it is not their reality. And so, because they are parked in the same place mostly at night, then it is easy to adapt to the charging infrastructure.

Considering this shift from CNG to BEV and FC, many customers have faced the same question of what the battery replacement costs are compared to a CNG engine.

“One of the first questions customers ask us [is what the battery life expectation is] because it’s one of the strangers, ”LaLonde says. “What we’ve done to fix this is we provide an eight year warranty as standard for the battery, then there’s an extended warranty up to 12 years or if we can’t reach a certain percentage. of the initial capacity, we will exchange it.

As for the cost of replacing an EV battery, LaLonde says it’s about half the cost of replacing a CNG engine, or $ 7,000 for the battery plus the 12-year warranty.

“When you step into the electric vehicle space, there are so many tools available today, and we’ve actually linked our vehicles to those tools that allow small waste handling companies… to efficiently manage their routes. He said. “Identify routes and beaches, determine the amount of energy needed and the geography [is something we’re still working out]. Obviously if you ride a lot [there is a reduced mile range]. We provide these same tools so that they can do it more efficiently and therefore the price and cost investment between [larger and smaller haulers creates a chasm that is] much less than five years ago.

Although the technologies behind CNG, BEV, and FC can vary widely, the predominant safety risk for all three types of vehicles is a thermal event, such as a gas leak or overheating of the batteries.

“When you take a CNG infrastructure that has all the booths lined up and people have marked and coordinated their courses and have processes in place to get into the facility, to leave the facility, we’re better aligned than we’ve never been. to try to manage something like this in the future ”, -James Johnston, President, Autocar

“Certainly, if you have a 200 kilowatt-hour battery, you have to take care of it,” says Kirchhoff. “Of course you have these breakers and you can turn them off, but you have to have strategies to do it. With the hydrogen in the fuel cell, it’s not that complicated because hydrogen is the lightest element we have on earth, so it goes really fast. Suppose a tank has a leak, this is not a problem because the hydrogen itself needs a ratio of hydrogen to air to do something. And so, when there is a leak, the gas goes out and even if there is an ignition, it is very rare that it [would lead to a serious problem].

“One of the biggest problems [with electric vehicles] is the maintenance staff. You have to educate them because it’s electric, it has 700 volts, and they shouldn’t touch it. On a normal garbage truck, they’re used to messing around because it’s a 48 or 34 volt system, so it’s all about education, of course. In addition, a gasoline truck or a hydrogen truck needs special training for maintenance personnel to deal with it. “

For the BEV, if a battery overheats, it has emergency cuts to disconnect the load from the vehicle battery in the event of a thermal event.

“First and foremost, we train every time we sell vehicles in an area with first responders to show them how to turn off the high voltage,” says LaLonde. “We have not had thermal events where this caused [damage], and there was no fire with our vehicles [because of] our batteries. The reality is that running gallons of diesel fuel under a vehicle is much more dangerous than running a battery. It’s actually safer to run with a battery where you can disengage them quickly.

While BEV and FC have been labeled “the fuel of the future”, today without subsidies or tax credits, the economy does not support a BEV or BEV / FC conversion on the merits of fuel savings and ‘Lifecycle maintenance given the high initial cost of capital (more than twice the cost of diesel or CNG), explains Michael Hoffman, Managing Director of Stifel.

“Of course, today it is very difficult to get a good return on investment [BEV/FC]. As long as diesel is in the pricing, it is today … and if there is no credit [or incentive] given the absence of emissions or reduced noise, it is then almost impossible to obtain a competitive return on investment, ”explains Kirchhoff.

Johnston agrees, saying, “The biggest challenge will be the total cost. People have such a hard time distinguishing between sourcing capital and working capital. The return on investment of these vehicles will be over the life cycle. It won’t be straightforward; you are going to pay a premium for a while. And so, it’s going to be the struggle.

The panelists concluded that GNC is well established and that the pros and cons are well understood. BEV and FC, on the other hand, have high expectations, but there is not enough vehicle data in day-to-day operations to determine whether the expected savings and operating performance will meet the needs and demands of solid waste industry.

This article originally appeared in the January February issue of Waste Today. The author is the Associate Editor of Waste Today and can be contacted at

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