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Alternative fuels series: electrification

18 March 2021 #Features & Interviews #TNB News

The third part in TNB’s month-long focus on alternative fuels, this week we look at electrification ahead of SMMT Electrified on 25 March, which will bring together industry leaders, government, media and key stakeholders from the energy, fleet and logistics sectors to discuss the latest developments and what is needed to create a sustainable transport system fit for today, and tomorrow.

Perhaps the most widely understood of the emissions-reducing technologies that we have looked at, electrification is being broadly adopted in the van sector in particular, and in the bus and coach market. The commitment of fleet operators to increase efficiency and work towards net-zero targets, combined with the rise in Low Emission Zones, makes electrification an attractive option for vehicles operating in urban environments.

According to research from EO Charging, the rise in online orders for home delivery has risen by 35% since the beginning of Covid-19, culminating in more than 400 million orders a month. As such, as we covered in a feature on January 14th, van operators have seized the opportunity to invest heavily in electrification. The same report states that 73% of UK adults would prefer to buy products from companies that deliver them in an environmentally friendly manner, 72% would use a green delivery option where available and 51% would pay more for such a service. The van market represents a rapidly emerging opportunity for EVs.

“Three national lockdowns have really cemented the increased likelihood for people to buy goods online and get them delivered to their doorstep – but they are also aware that all these deliveries come at a cost to the planet,” said Charlie Jardine, EO founder and CEO. “A large majority of people are keen to see all their home deliveries arriving in a low-carbon manner in the next five years, whether that is by electric vehicle, cargo bike or on foot.”

The public’s calls are being answered. Vanarama stated that 83% of van drivers would consider an EV as their next light commercial vehicle, and Fiat Professional claimed that 84% thought that companies should be looking to operate a fleet of environmentally friendly vehicles. The Fiat study coincided with the expansion of its electric range and showed that vans such as its E-Ducato, with a 192-mile range, provided almost four times the daily distance required by van drivers in its survey.

“Caring about the planet is an important part of everyone’s lives,” said Fiat Professional UK country manager, Richard Chamberlain. “Electric vans offer a lot of benefits for delivery companies and tradespeople. Not only are they environmentally friendly, but they are also exempt from the congestion charge and ULEZ and are available with up to an £8,000 government grant.”

Suitability for light commercials

The design and utilisation of vans in multi-drop and urban environments makes them ideal for transition to electrified powertrain, according to Morris Commercials founder, Dr Qu Li. With its all-electric JE, which the company hopes will launch in Q2 2022, Morris Commercials has sought to, she says, “reduce overall gross weight to overcome traditional boundaries – to offer a small van with a bigger carrying capacity.”

The JE, which reimagines the retro styling of the classic Morris J-Type, entered development in 2015 and is based on a modular, bespoke aluminium frame and carbon-fibre bodyshell. The result, claims the company, is one of the lightest vans of its size. This will help enable it to achieve a 200-mile range, with 80% of the battery’s capacity attainable in 30 minutes from a public 50kWh fast charger.

Dr Li describes the JE as, “A van to build your business – to demonstrate customers’ personalities – rather than just a tool to work with,” and tells us that pre-orders have come from a range of businesses including individuals, race teams, high end retail and fleet operators. “The unique structure is very light and strong to improve efficiency, save energy and reduce running costs.”

Arrival is another company aiming to disrupt the future light commercial EV sector. The company, which has also recently announced electric bus trials with First Group, has unveiled an electric van that it claims boasts a 1975kg payload and 2.4m3 per metre in length cargo volume for a price that is comparable to existing fossil-fuelled alternatives. Public trials with customers are scheduled to begin this summer.

The company states that the van has been developed alongside drivers and operators to maximise real world functionality and will come with a modular battery that can be specified – from 44kWh to 133kWh – to best meet operators’ needs.

“We believe that the rapid growth of e-commerce has led to a much higher demand for light commercial transport in cities, increasing both congestion and air pollution,” explained Avinash Ruguboor, Arrival president and chief strategy officer. “We are in the midst of an important market transition as more and more fleet managers adopt cleaner and more sustainable methods and cities adopt stricter air quality measures. We are looking to accelerate that transition.”

While more EVs continue to join van fleets and all-electric options are available from all major vehicle manufacturers, Morris Commercials’ Dr. Li adds that it is an area where technology is rapidly evolving and future gains can be found: “It’s about efficiency and capacity – you can be in danger of effectively defeating the purpose if vehicles get too big,” she explained, of optimising the balance between payload and investment. “The cost of improving battery density is currently too expensive. There’s room for future development here. Also, for a van, the electric motor needs different characteristics to cars – it’s not a supercar motor. Development is possible in that area to produce high efficiency and power density at a reduced cost. There remains lots of work to do and a balance to find.”

Bus and coach and heavy goods vehicles

A transition that the government aims to accelerate in England with this week’s release of its Bus Back Better strategy, electric buses are already in operation across the UK. In Scotland,  First Group recently committed to a zero-emission fleet by 2035 and pledged to no longer buy diesel buses beyond 2022. As an example of the Group’s zero-emissions commitment, its latest collaboration with ADL and BYD UK will deliver a £9m investment in 22 electric buses for Glasgow city centre ahead of the UN’s COP26 conference there in November. To further support the electric fleet deployment, Scottish Power Energy Networks  has invested £300k in charging infrastructure at the Caledonia depot.

Funding comes through £5m provided from First Glasgow and £4m as part of Transport Scotland’s Scottish Ultra Low Emission Bus Scheme, which demonstrates the financial challenge of moving away from fossil fuels.

“We are delighted to have been awarded this funding to help close the gap in price between a diesel and an electric bus,” said Andrew Jarvis, First Glasgow managing director. “In January last year, we launched the city’s first electric buses on a commercial bus route and we are proud that we can now build upon this with another 22 fully electric vehicles, which will replace the oldest buses in our fleet to further improve air quality in the city of Glasgow.”

Beyond these key sectors for the technology, electrification of municipal vehicles is accelerating, as covered by TNB in December,  and vehicles up to 16-tonnes are in operation by DHL – which is utilising a Volvo FL Electric 4×2 rigid for last-mile deliveries into London’s West End – and have undergone trials with DPD. The last-mile sector, in particular, can benefit enormously from zero-emissions solutions, which we will examine in a future TNB.

Technology continues to develop at pace for these sectors, as demonstrated by BorgWarner’s latest 800v electric motor designed specifically for the CV market. Its High Voltage Hairpin (HVH) motor, HVH 320, will be suitable for a wide range of CVs due to availability in four configurations – reaffirming both Dr. Li’s and Arrival’s viewpoint that optimising powertrain and use cycles is vital to enhance efficiency.

With torque output of 1270Nm, over 530bhp and 97% peak efficiency, Dr. Stefan Demmerle, BorgWarner PowerDrive Systems president and general manager, summed it up when he said, “Using our 800-volt rated machine, customers can significantly reduce charging time and achieve a higher power density, enabling an even brighter future for electric trucks.”





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