Trash talking

By: Mark Gojszyk

Presented by
  • Plant & Equipment

While electric propulsion developments have made loud splashes in Europe and the US, the revolution is also underway in Australia. And that’s not a load of rubbish. Mark Gojszyk hears how battery-powered waste trucks are ushering in a new, quieter, future.

Waste-Management

While some rusted-on trucking romantics can’t imagine a world without the billowing smoke and engine roar of a big diesel rig, the reality is that some fleets are ever so gradually transitioning away from that towards a cleaner, greener mode of transport.

The revolution has, literally and metaphorically, quietly been taking shape in the southern corner of the globe, manifesting in the production of three all-electric trucks to be deployed in Victoria.

The role? Cleaning up mess – in more ways than one. It’s a small fleet of waste trucks to be put to work collecting hard rubbish in south-east Melbourne’s City of Casey, while delivering less carbon and noise pollution.

Best of all? From a local industry perspective, it was born of a collaboration between multiple Australian businesses.

The electric drivetrain and associated components were created by Dandenong-based automotive technology company SEA Electric, with the loader and compactor built by Queensland-based compaction supplier Superior Pak. The vehicles will be managed by waste management company WM Waste Management Services, which works with 17 councils in Victoria.

Two units – an Iveco Acco and Mercedes-Benz Econic cab-chassis – were unveiled early October at the Waste Expo Australia in Melbourne. The former was the first cab off the rank and ready to be put to work.

"This one is almost a 100 per cent Australian truck, so it’s pretty exciting from that point of view," WM Waste project manager Michael Strickland says of the Acco.

As Strickland explains, these trucks are not "off-the-shelf products" made fit for order. Rather, they are ‘gliders’. That means they come as a cab-chassis with no motor or other components such as transmission or fuel tank – a shell ready to be filled in.

Waste-Management
The Iveco Acco and Mercedes Econic exterior

FACTS AND FIGURES

Getting the project off the ground wasn’t all that simple to begin with, Strickland admits. For example, gliders aren’t that easy to come by.

"It was actually quite difficult to get the trucks," he says. "People don’t really want to sell gliders. You go to a truck company and ask for a truck with no motor and they don’t really want to do it – because they want to sell you a motor."

Once the trucks did come, SEA Electric and Superior Pak got to work.

SEA Electric has patented and developed a number of products for van, minibus and truck operations, including two of its own models: the EV4 commercial delivery van and EV10 medium-duty truck.

WM Waste’s vehicles are based on SEA-Drive technology, the company’s ‘high-performance’ drivetrain. They contain 220-kilowatt-hour lithium-manganese-cobalt-oxide batteries, or NMC for short, allowing for a range of about 250km on a 23,500kg gross vehicle mass (GVM) with a limited top speed of 100km/h.

A 22kW onboard charger allows the truck to be plugged in and charged from any three-phase, 32-amp power source, and a full charge takes eight hours – though SEA Electrics’ systems can handle rapid charging of up to 120kW.

The current charging system suits this kind of vocation, as the stop-start nature of rubbish collection provides additional charging through the truck’s regenerative braking system, and the rest can be charged overnight at the depot.

Overall, the battery life is estimated to last 3,500 charge cycles – or an operational life of 10 years in day-to-day operation.

The technology continues to improve, as SEA Electric group managing director Tony Fairweather explains.

"The WM Waste unit has a 212kWh battery pack set – three pods – which has recently increased to 220kWh, simply due to battery cell density improvements from our supplier," he says.  

"In fact, a further 12 per cent improvement is due in December, bringing our supplier density improvements to 56 per cent by the end of this year, in under two years."

In the past, given the relatively limited maximum range, the battery technology was best suited to vocational roles. But given the improvements, longer-haul capabilities are not too far around the corner. 

"This trend will continue, meaning much greater range from smaller packs, allowing us to extend our range into large-GVM vehicles into next year, including prime movers," Fairweather says.

Fairweather alludes to electric propulsion in three distinct phases currently: passenger cars with minimal fast-charging requirement between cities; metro distribution/collection vehicles with some charging requirements; and prime mover and urban bus, which struggle with enough batteries for range and need super-fast charging to cope.

Waste-Management

BUSY BODY

The compactors for these vehicles are also different to usual designs. Superior Pak’s solution aims to maximise the amount of hard waste that can be loaded in one collection, therefore requiring fewer vehicles in operation and minimising environmental impact.

Its ‘combination rear loader/cage’ comprises a 17 cubic metre rear loader compactor body at the back, complemented by an 8.3 cubic metre cage at the front for items that are not suitable for compaction. The cage is complete with a hydraulic lifter for heavy goods.

"These trucks are non-traditional in their body design because there’s a compactor along with a tray/cage type of component," Strickland says. "So when people put out their rubbish, if it’s a TV or a computer, we can’t crush that, so it would be placed in the tray. If it’s heavy, like a fridge, we can use the lifter and also place it in the tray.

"All the other stuff, like mattresses or scrap metal, we can place in the back and compact it and take it to our sorting facility.

"The beauty about this truck is it can go past someone’s house and pick up everything at once, whereas in the past, one truck would pick up mattresses, another would pick up scrap metal, and another would pick up TVs."

The Knox Transfer and Recycling Facility is the next destination for the contents. In another boost for sustainability, the energy contained within combustible material, such as recyclable plastics, cardboard, paper and waste timber, which would usually go to landfill, can be converted into a specialised fuel.

"We sort the rubbish and make a product called process-engineered fuel out of it, so we get a really high recycling rate out of it as well, and not much goes in to landfill from the hard rubbish," Strickland says.

That fuel is used to power cement kilns located in Adelaide, Sydney and south-east Asia.

Waste-Management
A look inside

COUNCILS ON BOARD

This kind of truck may solve some issues and present opportunities for local governments around areas of pollution, noise and cranky residents.

The City of Casey is the first beneficiary of this creation. Covering an area of more than 400 square kilometres, it’s bordered by the Dandenong Ranges to the north and the shoreline of Western Port in the south, and contains plenty of farmland in the middle, meaning there’s plenty of diverse geography to protect for future generations.  

Yet Melbourne’s urban sprawl has also made Casey Victoria’s most populous council, with more than 300,000 residents calling it home. Therefore, it’s estimated there are 62,000 booked collections per year, equating to about 10,000 tonnes of hard rubbish.

"The City of Casey is really excited. They love the idea. Local governments love sustainability," Strickland says.

"This is really quiet. It’s like a Tesla – you can’t really hear it.

"There are fewer trucks on residential streets and less effect on the residents because you haven’t got the noise and the air pollution."

Casey may be the first in a long line of local governments to embrace electric propulsion sooner rather than later. Representatives of other councils were sniffing around at the Waste Expo Australia launch, impressed by what they saw. It should come as no surprise, given the benefits the technology can bring – not just in the long-term, but short-term as well.   

"With these trucks, it can potentially bring up the conversation around truck curfews in some places," Strickland adds.

"Some residents, in some places where there are lots of trucks belching out air pollution and with noisy breaks going past people’s houses, they don’t want them.

"These, even if they’re passing at night, you don’t hear it and there’s no pollution. If you’re a resident, you don’t really mind that.

"Another thing these would be good for is doing collections inside a building. Because then you don’t have the air pollution problem. These are too big, obviously, but with a smaller version you could go into a building."

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WORK READY

By the time you read this, these trucks may already be in operation on the streets of south-east Melbourne.

Electrification was recently described by one of the big trucking manufacturers as a "once-in-a-century innovation", but with diesel still the dominant force and electric propulsion only slowly trickling into the mainstream, it’s an innovation WM Waste didn’t want to waste any time in implementing.

"The Volvos of the world are all looking at building their own electric trucks and starting to launch them now, but if you want to order one from Australia, you’d probably be waiting for around four years I reckon," Strickland says.

"We’re going to be on the road operating before they even launch their trucks, before you can even order them, so we’re well ahead of the pack in that way."

With benefits including no-emission, quiet trucks, more efficient waste management, and a boost for Australian manufacturing, it’s a project that ticks plenty of boxes.

 

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