©Kevin McGovern | stock.adobe.com

Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) are getting much of the attention when it comes to technology being deployed to reduce tailpipe emissions, including for operators of waste and recycling collection trucks.

Waste and recycling hauling firms are indeed investing in EVs, but battery-powered trucks are a long way from becoming the norm in commercial and residential collection.

Thus, haulers, truck makers and engine producers have worked together to expand options for alternative fuels like compressed natural gas (CNG) and continue to design cleaner-burning conventional diesel and gasoline-powered models.

For haulers and municipalities wishing to reduce their carbon footprints, there are a growing number of environmentally friendly options available, with more in the works.

Stepping on the gas

Indiana-based Cummins engines announced in mid-2021 an investment that the company says reaffirms its commitment to CNG engine options for its customers.

In late June, Cummins announced it had acquired a 50 percent equity interest in Momentum Fuel Technologies from Texas-based Rush Enterprises Inc.

Cummins says the joint venture with Momentum has been designed to produce natural gas fuel delivery systems for the commercial vehicle market in North America. The systems will “provide the strengths of Momentum Fuel Technologies’ CNG fuel delivery systems, Cummins’ powertrain expertise and [the] support infrastructure of both companies,” states Cummins.

“This collaboration shows Cummins’ continued commitment to natural gas powertrains,” Srikanth Padmanabhan, president of the Engine Business segment at Cummins, said at the time of the announcement. “This partnership will improve customer service for both CNG and [renewable natural gas or RNG] through an improved support network. We are thrilled to expand our network of clean and reliable power solutions.”

“The immediate environmental benefits of CNG and RNG, combined with upcoming regulatory requirements, will drive growth in natural gas vehicles for the foreseeable future,” stated W.M. Rush, chairman, CEO and president of Rush Enterprises.

CNG has gained market share in the waste and recycling collection market over the past 10 years, including with Phoenix-based Republic Services, which has put CNG vehicles on the road in many of its markets throughout the United States.

From 2015 to 2017, Republic announced CNG vehicle acquisitions or fueling station installations in markets including Southern California (200 CNG vehicles), Colorado (more than 100 vehicles), Ohio (25 vehicles), and Minnesota (50 trucks and a fueling station).

In some cases, local governments are pressing the case for the seemingly cleaner burning vehicles. In 2017, county commissioners in Seminole County, Florida, mandated that local haulers convert their collection fleets to CNG engines, in news initially reported by the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.

The haulers affected by that mandate were Longwood, Florida-based Waste Pro and the former Advanced Disposal Services (acquired by Houston-based Waste Management Inc. last year). The two companies served some 65,000 homes with municipal solid waste (MSW) and yard waste pick-up at that time.

The Sentinel wrote Advanced Disposal at that time already had some 95 CNG trucks on the road, including vehicles in three different counties in Florida, and it had opened a CNG fueling station in Orlando, Florida.

While CNG seems poised to remain an option for haulers, Cummins also is supplying more traditional engines to truck makers. Earlier this year, Cummins announced an agreement to supply its B6.7 and L9 engines to the Michigan-based business unit of Japan’s Hino Trucks for models to be sold in North America.

But in that same announcement, Hino Trucks made comments pointing to a future with more battery-powered trucks on the road in North America, whether in the waste sector or beyond.

Plugging into a new power source

At the same company event it announced its cooperation with Cummins, Hino Trucks also said it plans to redirect engineering and other resources to accelerate the development of the battery electric vehicle (BEV) portion of Project Z, its “development path to zero-emission vehicles (ZEV).”

The company had previously announced plans to develop and produce a range of Class 4 through 8 battery electric trucks by 2024. As of 2021, Hino Trucks says it is planning to begin low-volume production of the BEV models in the fourth quarter of 2022, ramping up to full production by the end of 2023.

“Our industry is in the midst of a generational shift from traditional vehicles to zero-emission vehicles,” stated Hino Senior Vice President of Customer Experience Glenn Ellis at the firm’s Work Truck Show event in March. “This new partnership is in line with the recent shift we have seen among other OEMs, who are looking to strong industry partners to help offset their growing research and development (R&D) investments into new ZEVs.”

Established truck makers like Hino and Texas-based Peterbilt Motors Co. (which delivered its first medium-duty EV commercial truck to a customer in Alaska in June) are trying to retain market share while startups such as Los Angeles-based Battle Motors and Canada-based Lion Electric are working to leverage EV technology to carve a niche in waste and recycling collection.

In May, Battle Motors acquired New Philadelphia, Ohio-based Crane Carrier Company LLC (CCC), which has been manufacturing commercial vehicles for 75 years.

One month later, CCC and Battle Motors delivered its battery-powered, electric refuse trucks to New York City hauler Liberty Ashes Inc. That firm’s co-owners, brothers Michael and Stephen Bellino, tied the purchase to a February 2020 executive order by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mandating a fully electric municipal fleet by 2040.

“[When] we started looking into [electric refuse trucks], we were looking for availability, and we really couldn’t find any,” says Michael Bellino. He says CCC “was the first [company] that came to us with an actual delivery date that wasn’t two years in the future.”

Battle Motors CEO Michael Patterson says the company is investing to keep up with what the firm calls an influx of orders from haulers throughout the U.S. “We’re delivering 120 electric refuse trucks over the next three months,” says Patterson.

He continues, “We’re going to be delivering 200 electric trucks per month in 2022. Pretty much every major city is buying one or two electric trucks; we’ve already sold out everything we could make in 2021.”

Haulers seem to have indeed expressed a willingness to experiment with EV models, with Liberty Ashes far from the only hauler or municipality having taken the plunge.

Sustainable momentum?

One commitment to waste collection EVs has taken place in Idaho, where J&M Sanitation, a family-owned waste and recycling business serving Kuna, Idaho, has deployed two all-electric Class 8 refuse trucks to service its collection routes.

The provider of those vehicles, BYD, says the trucks are the first battery-electric, zero-emission vehicles in Idaho and were two of only 10 in North America at the time of delivery.

Shenzhen, China-based BYD, a publicly traded company that has a U.S. office in Los Angeles and a fabrication facility in Lancaster, California, has a considerable EV presence in China.

For the U.S. market, the firm is engaging with domestic suppliers. The cabs, chassis and propulsion systems of the two trucks delivered to J&M are equipped with 31-yard automated side-loader bodies made by Princeton, New Jersey-based Amrep,

“As the waste management industry seeks to provide zero-emission trucks for the communities [it serves], J&M Sanitation is demonstrating with BYD that battery-electric trucks are ready to fully support their operations,” Aaron Gillmore, vice president of truck business at BYD, said in March when the deliveries were announced.

Commented J&M owner and CEO Tim Gordon, “As a small, family-owned company, we were able to make the change from diesel to the electric waste removal vehicles long before legislation mandated the change. I want to encourage legislators from across the country and government officials from the [U.S. Department of Energy] to consider legislation that encourages other waste removal companies to make this change sooner. If a small company like ours can make the change, larger companies can, too.”

Among those larger companies, Republic Services had at one time made a commitment to purchase up to 2,500 battery-powered trucks from Nikola Corp., which was based in its home Phoenix market.

That agreement was canceled in December of 2020 as concerns surrounding Nikola mounted, culminating in fraud charges against the company’s founder in mid-2021.

In its most recent sustainability report, Republic has not backed away from the spirit of that commitment to reduce the emissions of its fleet.

In the “Climate Leadership” section of its report, Republic says it has made a commitment to fleet electrification, and in 2020, its first electric collection truck pilot model was put into service.

Houston-based Waste Management Inc., on its website, is touting its ability to convert methane gas harnessed from landfill sites to “create renewable fuels that power our trucks.” The company says the conversion process creates fuel that can be used by CNG-powered trucks in its fleet.

As governments and a significant percentage of household consumers keep an eye on greenhouse gas emissions and commitments being made globally to reduce them, waste haulers will likely continue their research and spending on the alternative fuel vehicles they deem cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

The author is a senior editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.