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Power up and go

The waste and recycling industry was one of the earliest adopters of commercial electric vehicles (EVs). Thanks to improvements in battery technology, mainstream and niche manufacturers are now offering LCVs and trucks with longer range, better speed and better payload. As diesel prices hit record highs and with more pressure piling on fleet managers to reduce emissions, the timing could not be better.

Despite grants and incentives, the Government’s ambitious plans for electric cars appear to have short circuited, with just 1,000 sold in 2011, a tenth of the numbers forecast. But bright sparks at Whitehall are now betting on commercial EVs as the first serious new wave of battery-powered vehicles.

Long before global warming became a mainstream issue, the waste and recycling sector had embraced these vehicles for their practicality and most importantly, their pulling power. Slow-moving but powerful, electric tow tractors and tugs have been the preferred method for moving waste around sites for decades. But it was demand from larger campus environments that subsequently led to the development of bigger, road-legal vehicles that could pull and carry more.

EPower Trucks is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of road-legal electric utility vehicles. Its Alke range of trucks are used in a wide range of waste and recycling collection applications with clients including some of Britain’s most famous public schools, plus hospitals, shopping centres and universities.

Oldham-based ePower entered the market through its supply of electric tow tractors and pedestrian-controlled towing equipment – both machines are commonly seen conveying chains of wheelie bins around sites.

“The established, older technologies like tow tractors are fine for use in and around building complexes like hotels or hospitals. But larger sites such as universities needed something more like a conventional truck, so this was a natural progression for us,” says managing director Jerry Hanss.

The Alke ATX range of utility trucks can carry up to 1,000kg payloads and significantly can also tow up to 3,000kg. The extra pulling power is due to the efficiency and flat torque of an electric motor, compared to an internal combustion engine. The Alke vehicles are fully road legal and also have excellent off-road capabilities, tackling gradients of up to 40%.

Designed for waste collection, the Alke ATX200E AR has an anti-corrosion body that can be fitted with an automatic bin lift, suitable for 120 litre or 240 litre bins. Hydraulic outriggers support 90 degree tipping, so waste can be dumped directly into skips and compacting machines.

The vehicle is powered by lead gel batteries and can cover up to 70km on a single charge. However it is also available with a fast-swap battery pack, doubling the vehicle’s range to up to 140km. The battery pack can be swapped out in just three minutes, by one person, using a standard hand-operated pallet truck.

With a starting price of just under £16,000+VAT, the Alke vehicles cost about the same as a standard 3.5t Ford Transit. However, the benefits of running EVs are manifold. Along with the extra towing capacity, the vehicles can operate inside buildings, as they produce zero exhaust emissions. Running costs are a fraction of those for a diesel-powered vehicle, as “fuel” spend can be as little as 3p per mile. Even assuming a generous 18mpg for a conventional 3.5t LCV engaged in urban operations, it is likely to burn 17p per mile in diesel (based on diesel at 130p per litre). The more miles you cover in the EV, the quicker it achieves payback.

The electric LCV maintenance regime is also significantly reduced, to daily fluid checks for the battery pack and motor, plus the standard vehicle checks for tyres, lights and wipers. The simple and virtually friction-free drive train on EVs mean they have a much longer operational life than diesel LCVs – although the battery packs will need replacing every 3-5 years.

“These vehicles are real workhorses,” says Jerry Hanss. “Because the technology is proven and established, there is a buoyant used market for our electric trucks, so the pre-owned vehicles retain strong residual values. This also helps offset leasing costs.”

Loughborough University recently purchased two Alke vehicles from ePower Trucks; one fitted with a high mesh cage, for waste collection, the other with a fully enclosed box body. The vehicles are used across Loughborough’s 437 acre, single site campus.

Loughborough University logistics manager Clive Douthwaite says: “Environmental responsibility is very important to us, so we were determined to reduce emissions from our vehicle fleet. However, we wanted electric trucks that wouldn’t break the bank and still delivered great performance.

Douthwaite adds: “We chose the Alke vehicles from ePower Trucks after trialling EVs from various manufacturers. We felt the Alke trucks were robust workhorses that performed really well, were very low-cost to run and therefore offered the best return on investment.”

Case study

Braehead Shopping Centre near Glasgow has taken delivery of two heavy duty battery-powered utility trucks from ePower Trucks to replace a diesel-powered tractor and trailer. They will be used by external maintenance and cleaning staff and one of the electric vehicles will be fitted with a custom-built trailer for transporting 1,100 litre bins around the shopping centre. 

“Braehead has a huge commitment to the environment and making sure we reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible,” says Braehead’s general manager Peter Beagley. “Already we recycle most of our waste and have introduced major energy-saving measures in the centre.

“The move to all-electric trucks instead of a diesel tractor, which will reduce our CO2 emissions, is part of our commitment to operating a greener and more sustainable business.”

The trucks will also be used at Braehead Arena for transporting equipment used in events such as ice hockey matches, WWE wrestling shows, Davis Cup tennis tournaments and pop concerts. Both vehicles come with full winter maintenance packs, including rear-mounted, electrically-powered gritters and hydraulically-powered front fitted snow ploughs. 

“Our own snow ploughs and gritters will help us keep the car parks and roads around the centre and retail park clear of ice and snow during winter,” adds Beagley. “So not only is the environment benefiting from Braehead investing in these electric trucks, but visitors to Braehead will also benefit with clearer paths, roadways and car parks during winter.” 

EPower Trucks says its Alke utility vehicle is the first all-electric snow plough/gritter available on the UK market. The two-seater vehicles for Braehead have a range of up to 40 miles on a single charge and are fully road legal. The truck can tow up to 2,000kg and carry payloads of up to 600kg. A full battery recharge takes eight hours and running costs are less than 5p per mile.

Jerry Hanss is managing director of ePower Trucks

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