Iveco has just supplied 25 EcoDailys that run on environmentally-friendly compressed biomethane — landfill gas in other words — to Tesco for use on its home delivery service. They’ll all be based in Greenford in Middlesex and Gasrec is providing the fuel and is responsible for the filling station. A biomethane Daily has already been on trial with the London Borough of Camden. So what are the advantages of running on landfill gas?

Looking at it on a well-to-wheel basis you get a 60 per cent reduction in CO2 compared with diesel. Particulate matter is down by 90 per cent, NOx (nitrous oxide) by 60 per cent and SO2 (sulphur dioxide) by 50 per cent. It’s around half as quiet than a diesel as well. So far as particulates are concerned, it’s better than the level set by the proposed Euro 6 emission standard and it meets the Euro 6 NOx requirement too. In fact there are no drawbacks at all so far as exhaust emissions are concerned.

What’s the range of a biomethane Daily?

In the region of 150 to 200 miles if you’ve got five gas tanks fitted with 220 litres of gas in them. It will probably be a little bit less in town, but a little bit more on a fairly easy motorway or A road. The tanks all sit below the load bed. We also fit a 14-litre limp-home fuel tank (petrol) in case the driver runs out of biomethane.

How much more does a biomethane Daily cost?

It will cost you £6,000 to £7,000 more than the equivalent diesel model, but a van powered by biomethane can offer a payback time of about two years if you are going into central London regularly and can claim exemption from the congestion charge. If you’re not then the payback time will be more like three to four years.

If you run an EcoDaily on biomethane do you suffer a payload penalty?

The gas bottles that have to be fitted are heavy so you lose around 200kg of carrying capacity if you specify five. Because Tesco needs to use every last kilo of payload capability that’s available it’s had to go for 40C models that operate at 4.0 tonnes. That can of course pose problems with both driving licences and the need for a heavy truck operator’s licence. Fortunately the latter isn’t an issue at the Greenford site and there are enough people there with the necessary driving licence entitlement. However, I cannot help but feel that that the UK should do what they do in France.

What’s that?

Over there you can run a gas-powered 3.5-tonner at 3.8 tonnes assuming it’s capable of doing so. Anybody with a car driver’s licence can drive it and you do not require an operator’s licence either. We’d like to see that sort of payload bonus introduced in the UK.

The fact that biomethane is derived from material discarded by society makes it particularly environmentally-friendly. It is of course a close cousin to compressed natural gas (cng), but Iveco is apparently not all that keen on running vehicles on cng in Britain. Why?

The biomethane supplied by Gasrec is of a consistent, high quality. However, the natural gas that comes out of the gas pipe varies from one part of the country to another. OK, you can put in driers to make sure that it’s OK — ending up with water in vehicle fuel systems has been an historic problem with cng — but when it comes down to it biomethane makes a better story because of where it comes from.

Biomethane is delivered by tanker. Bearing in mind that neither cng nor biomethane are widely available on public forecourts, what’s it cost to install the necessary biomethane refuelling facility at an operator’s premises?

Depends on the number of vehicles. If you want to buy one outright that’s going to service, say, 20 or 30 you could be looking at as much as £100,000, so most people include the cost of the refuelling station in the price they pay for the gas. In other words they pay slightly more per kilo.

How many biomethane vehicles do you have to run before the exercise becomes worthwhile?

If you’re talking about putting your own filling station in then you’ve really got to have at least ten. Anything less is uneconomic.

Is biomethane cheaper than diesel?

Yes. It works out at about 60p a kilo which in energy terms is equivalent to 1.2 litres of diesel. So we’re talking about 50p a litre. Add on your filling station cost and it goes up to from 70p to 90p depending on how many kilos you’re buying; but it’s still cheaper than diesel.

How concerned are you that if biomethane and cng become more popular, the government will respond by increasing duty?

It’s a risk. Certainly when the government altered the duty rate on biodiesel last year its appeal was adversely affected. It’s now generally more expensive than ordinary diesel and — surprise, surprise — nobody is asking us if they can use it anymore. I know of some fleets that were running on a 50 per cent biodiesel mix that dropped it when the duty on most types of biodiesel increased and the cost went up because it no longer fitted their business model. But government needs to bear in mind that cng is very good for overall air quality nationwide. There’s a lot of interest in zero-tailpipe-emission electric vehicles in London in particular, but because of the way in which so much of the electricity is generated in the UK using fossil fuel power stations what you’re in effect doing is moving the pollution elsewhere. At present there’s only a limited amount of green electricity generated by wind power etc available. Where electric vehicles do have an advantage, however, is that they are very good for air quality, specifically in towns. They’re good for noise levels in towns too.

Iveco has developed an electric Daily that’s recently appeared on this side of the Channel. What batteries does it use?

It’s fitted with sodium nickel chloride Zebra batteries. Put a couple on a Daily 3.5-tonner and you’ll get a range of about 50 to 60 miles. The base vehicle ends up being slightly heavier than the equivalent diesel which does of course affect payload. You can recharge the batteries overnight if you’ve got access to a three-phase supply. An electric Daily will, however, cost you approximately £60,000 to £65,000, including the batteries.

At least you can claim exemption from the London congestion tax, the vehicle is zero-rated so far as VED is concerned and the power you use only costs a few pence per mile. But what’s happening with the diesel-electric hybrid Daily?you use only costs a few pence per mile. But what’s happening with the diesel-electric hybrid Daily?

In the short term it won’t be appearing in the UK. The project has been put on the back burner over the past couple of years because we had to cut back on our R & D spending as a consequence of the recession. We have, however, had some hybrid Dailys on trial with FedEx Express in northern Italy. We’re also working on stop-start technology which gives you a significant proportion of the fuel-saving benefit a hybrid brings, but without the cost. However, I don’t know when we’ll have it available on Daily.


Despite all the foregoing, the vast majority of vans are likely to have diesel engines for the foreseeable future. Where do you think LCV diesel technology is heading?

When Euro 6  is introduced in six years’ time or thereabouts it looks as though as well as a particulate filter it will require the use of both exhaust gas recirculation and selective catalytic reduction technology. Already familiar to truck operators, the latter will oblige van owners to pour a substance commonly known as AdBlue, a ixture of urea and water, into their vehicles every so often to help clean up the exhaust gases. Limits on van CO2 levels are coming into force too and the concern has to be that the two standards will pull in different directions, with Euro 6 emphasising the reduction of NOx rather than CO2. We can put whatever technology is required to meet legal requirements on a vehicle, but there comes a point where the cost becomes prohibitive so far as the operator is concerned.