Electric collection vehicles have become a topic of interest for waste haulers seeking to lower their carbon footprint, but for companies like Portland, Maine-based Ecomaine, this new technology poses a more unique opportunity.
Since opening its waste-to-energy plant in 1989, Ecomaine has seen a decrease in the value of the energy it produces. Unable to compete with the cheaper prices of natural gas, the company was left without significant revenue, losing a major source of funding for its programs and facilities.
In an effort to increase the produced electricity’s value in-house, Ecomaine sought to replace its two diesel-powered trucks—which transport waste material from the plant to the company’s landfill—with electric waste hauling trucks fueled by its operations.
The purchase of the vehicles would be made possible by a combined grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that covers 57.5 percent of the capital investment. The grant, combined with funds matched by Ecomaine, would allow the company to secure the two electric trucks.
“The vehicles are [almost] two to three times more expensive than a traditional combustion engine vehicle,” says Ecomaine CEO Kevin Roche. “So, when we got the funding that would basically neutralize that investment for us, we went out to the market to find out who was offering these trucks.”
In March, the waste management company announced its purchase of two vehicles from Canada-based Lion Electric Co., making it the first company in the U.S. to employ all-electric waste hauling trucks that will be powered by its own waste-to-energy operations.
“[Lion Electric] had a key focus on what it was that we wanted to do and what changes they needed to make to the truck,” says Roche. “The prototype [truck] they had was kind of off the shelf, so we needed some changes. This is a heavy-duty application, so we needed the capacity to be there. They were very willing to work to make those changes for us and make sure that this was the solution that we needed for this application.”
The right fit
Created in partnership with Boivin Evolution (BEV), Lion Electrics’ Class 8 truck is the first waste vehicle with a powertrain and automated collection hopper that are both 100 percent electric. Able to be used to collect household waste, recycling and organic material, the vehicle consists of a Lion8 chassis and BEV all-electric automated side-loading hopper.
Featuring a range of up to 249 miles, or a full day of operation in a residential setting (approximately 1,200 homes) on a single charge, Gary Lalonde, sales director for Lion Electric, says Ecomaine’s application of the electric vehicles is an “ideal situation.”
“Ecomaine has a situation that is actually pretty fantastic in that they have a waste-to-energy facility where they burn the waste in an environmentally friendly way and that creates steam, which powers a turbine that creates energy,” says Lalonde. “For them, going all electric was a really good solution because they have an opportunity where it’s almost 100 percent savings because they’re going to create their own energy.”
With the trucks scheduled to bring the waste-to-energy plant’s waste ash to Ecomaine’s landfill just a short distance away, the vehicles are expected to save the company 75 percent on fuel costs over six years when compared to diesel trucks.
The trucks also make more sense than investing in compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks, the company says.
“If you take a look at the total cost of CNG versus electric, the infrastructure that you require for electric can be used in other applications and is significantly less than having set up a CNG refill on-site,” says Lalonde.
Additionally, the new trucks boast zero-emission features and will require fewer mechanical parts to maintain.
“Basically, we’re looking at savings of $50,000 to $60,000 over six years on maintenance costs of two vehicles. So, that [includes] oil changes, brake adjustments and things like that,” says Shawn Rybski, landfill supervisor for Ecomaine. “With these electric trucks, we’re going to have [Lion Electric] training our truck drivers specifically, but when you’re using the retentive breaking systems that these trucks have, you’re actually using the motor to stop the vehicle instead of the brakes on your traditional diesel trucks and other trucks on the road.”
"Traditional diesel engines have a lot of moving parts. When looking at an electric truck, those moving parts are cut by more than half, so you don’t have replacement parts wearing out on electric versus your traditional diesel truck,” –Shawn Rybski, landfill supervisor, Ecomaine
He adds, “Traditional diesel engines have a lot of moving parts. When looking at an electric truck, those moving parts are cut by more than half, so you don’t have replacement parts wearing out on electric versus your traditional diesel truck.”
As for charging infrastructure, the trucks are compatible with Level 2 and Level 3 charging stations and can fully recharge in four to eight hours. The unit can be self-sufficient with its own battery pack, with no need for power from the chassis to operate the body. Its battery pack can also be integrated on a Lion8 chassis to optimize the pack sizing, the energy consumption and the battery recharge.
Getting on the road
According to Lalonde, the feedback on the electric trucks so far has been positive for those who have come to the manufacturer’s site to test drive them.
“People have been able to come to our facility and go on a private track where they can actually drive the vehicle,” he says. “From anybody who’s driven it, we’ve not gotten a single negative comment. Everybody loves it—they’re all surprised at how much power it has straight out the gate after they see it tested.”
Patrick Gervais, vice president of marketing and communications at Lion Electric, adds, “All of our vehicles, especially our trucks, are purpose-built for electric. Therefore, clients and the people who try [it] tend to see the difference right away. Everything is built, thought and engineered to be electric.”
Ecomaine’s refuse trucks are expected to be delivered by Jan. 1, 2021, and the company is currently putting together final plans to bring these trucks in and put them right to use.
“We’re going to have to purchase roll-off containers for this application. We’re putting a huge investment in these trucks, so we want to make sure we keep them clean. We’re looking at a wash system so that they can be cleaned and washed because the last thing we want to do is ruin our investment in these trucks because they aren’t cleaned on a regular basis. We have an aggressive schedule, and we want to deploy these trucks as soon as we get them,” says Roche.