Justin Laney, of the John Lewis Partnership, fourth from the right, receives the award from Scania specialist sales executive David Burke, third right

John Lewis Partnership has a long-term plan to see its entire fleet run on biomethane by 2025.

As the parent company of one of the UK’s biggest supermarkets and department stores, and operator of a 500-strong HGV fleet, John Lewis Partnership (JLP) believes it has a responsibility to minimise its effect on the environment and keep carbon emissions low.

Transport is responsible for 30% of the business’s overall CO2 output, with emissions from trucks accounting for approximately 70% of that figure. The introduction of what it claims is Europe’s largest fleet of long-distance 100% biomethane-fuelled trucks won it the Low Carbon Award at this year’s MT Awards, impressing the judges with its long-term plan to see the entire JLP fleet run on biomethane by 2025.

“We are the largest co-owned business in the UK, and that gives us the culture and heritage of doing the right thing. Part of that is tackling emissions,” said Justin Laney, general manager – central transport. “Tackling emissions from transport is particularly difficult because there aren’t that many viable alternatives to diesel. It was always a challenge to make a big reduction in our transport emissions, while staying cost-effective.”

CO2 savings

It has 12 biomethane-fuelled 32-tonne Scania trucks on its Waitrose fleet, with another 42 on order for delivery before the year end. Each truck emits 128 tonnes less CO2 than a conventional diesel truck a year, delivering an overall CO2 saving of 83% per vehicle. The trucks were developed especially for JLP.

It wanted its biomethane fleet to carry out the same duties as its diesel counterpart, so required a range of 500 miles; some 150 more than the standard 200-bar Scania gas trucks could achieve. With Scania’s permission, JLP purchased 10 trucks without fuel tanks and sourced 250-bar carbon fibre tanks. Laney said this gave the trucks the range it required and the use of carbon fibre tanks allowed it to save 500kg in weight.

While the 32-tonners work on the company’s Waitrose fleet, Laney said there are plans to roll them out across its John Lewis operation. As each truck comes up for renewal, it will be replaced with a gas truck. JLP’s journey to switching to an alternative-fuelled fleet began in 2011 when it converted 43 Euro-5 diesel trucks, mainly DAFs and Mercedes-Benz, into dual-fuelled gas/diesel vehicles. While at the time this was a major step towards a greener future, JLP encountered problems such as methane slip (where incomplete combustion of methane in the engine was released – causing a much higher risk to global warming) and poor availability of fuelling infrastructure.

“Previously we had been running trucks on pure plant oil,” Laney added. “The truck started on diesel and once it was warm it would run on pure vegetable oil, and it would stop on diesel.”

He said JLP stopped running trucks on plant oil when some subsidies disappeared and the firm became concerned about the use of agrifuels (where crops are grown specifically to be turned into fuel).

“Long-distance transport options are quite narrow. In the short term, electric vehicles aren’t practical, due to heavy batteries and range. Hydrogen likewise: your choices really are using diesel or natural gas,” Laney said.

To help choose a more suitable fuel, JLP enlisted academics at Imperial College in London. Biomethane was selected as the most sustainable and cost-effective option.

“Methane is more energy dense than diesel. For the amount of CO2 you emit, you actually get more energy out,” Laney explained. “The business case works, but probably the biggest drawback is they cost a bit more than diesel trucks. Your fuel saving has to be pretty big to pay that back.”

The first two trucks were trialled on the fleet in 2016 and JLP was impressed with the initial results. A further 10 were introduced earlier this year. “Some of them are doing 6,500km a week, so that gives us quite a large saving,” Laney said. “But if you’re sending them into cities and doing fewer miles, the business case probably isn’t there at the moment.”

Challenges, costs, contingency

The business also took upfront cost, the cost of ongoing maintenance, driver reactions, fuel availability and reliability into account when trialling the biomethane trucks. One of the challenges JLP encountered was ensuring the refuelling infrastructure was suitable for its operation. Laney said that JLP, in partnership with CNG Fuels, operates a refuelling station in Leyland, where its 32 biomethane trucks are based.

Low Carbon John Lewis2

“You have to have a contingency plan in case the fuel station breaks down. For example in Leyland, we can use the M6 at Crewe. But with the rate of expansion of gas fuel stations you would expect that problem to go away over time,” he said.

Driver reaction has been positive as the trucks are much quieter and are cleaner to refuel than diesel vehicles, and drivers and technicians have undertaken additional training to ensure they are familiar with the technology.

“Scania has been very good at training gas technicians in their workshops,” said Laney. “Our own guys have been trained too. We also needed facilities such as gas alarms in workshops, and because the pressure is so high they need to be aware of the dangers of working on kit that is very high pressure.”

Although the upfront cost is higher than that of a diesel truck, Laney believes this will be offset by fuel savings.

Resell value

“Resell value is another important part of the equation, but the assumption is that the resell value is going to be about the same as diesel,” Laney added. “I believe gas trucks will become very popular and their second-hand value is probably going to be higher than diesel, but it’s too early to say for sure.”

JLP has also made strides in reducing emissions in its refrigerated trailer fleet by introducing more aerodynamic designs. It claimed this has resulted in a 14% overall reduction in drag and a 7% fuel consumption improvement at 52mph, equating to a £1,300 saving per trailer per year. It teamed up with Cambridge University to conduct wind tunnel trials and particle image velocimetry trials (which involve moving a scale model through a water tank to measure airflow) to design a trailer with reduced wind drag.

The result was a Gray & Adams trailer with a boat tail, lower chassis, lower under-run bar, lower overall height of 3,800mm and longer and deeper side skirts.

Laney said: “We looked at transition of air flow from tractor to trailer and found we needed a gap that’s quite small. We also looked at the air flow at the back of the trailer. We knew that a lot of the drag comes from the door at the back; that’s sucking air as you go along and trying to pull the whole truck back.”

Cambridge University concluded the optimum sloped angle at the back of the trailer was 9 degrees, which does not affect the size of the load space. The floor was moved down about 200mm, the roof was sloped by 1.5m, and the sides came in by 300mm.

Laney said: “We’ve got six trial sets of bigger alternators that power the fridge. We are going to buy 14 more this year as part of the trial. They will be the first gas trucks that can power a fridge. If that works we’ll roll out a lot more.”

Laney said JLP is seeing great results from the combination on long-distance hauls and the business hopes to introduce the trucks to its Milton Keynes site next.

“At the moment we are focused on longdistance routes where the saving is greatest, but we have potentially got real benefit in urban areas where air quality is an issue,” he added.

Laney said gas trucks are much quieter than Euro-6 diesel trucks, roughly half the noise, and would easily lend themselves to urban operations. “We are also trialling a gas truck later in the year that will provide electrical power to the refrigerated trailer. Its a very good solution for out-of-hours deliveries.”

He would like to see enhanced access in urban areas for trucks that meet certain environmental standards or noise levels, such as exemptions to the London Lorry Control Scheme.

And the future...

JLP does not have a biomethane option in place for its 44-tonne fleet, but it is working on one. It is also looking into taking advantage of the planned almost one tonne additional allowance for alternative-fuelled vans.

Laney added: “Next we are pushing forward on the fridges. After that we are looking into the 4.25-tonne alternative-fuelled van that the DfT is consulting on. It will be a game-changer because you’ll be able to carry more payload despite the weight from the batteries, so you can be more productive. It gives you a business case to actually put those in.”