Creating a green blue‑light fleet

Yorkshire Ambulance Service has investigated several different alternative fuels in its mission to cut emissions, which has resulted in one of the greenest ambulance fleets in the country. Alexis Keech explains how

The challenge for all fleet managers and sustainability managers is trying to anticipate the future and future-proof their fleets.
With more fuel-efficient diesel vehicles coming on the market, continuing to purchase these can sometimes be the easy option.

However, carbon footprints and air pollution are higher on the agenda and fleet managers are being increasingly challenged to change the norm.

We have a perfect opportunity to embrace, shape and change the refuelling infrastructure, while still ensuring it meets our organisation’s needs.

Legislation laid down in the Climate Change Act has forced vehicle manufacturers to focus on emissions with a target of reducing them to 80 per cent of their 1990 levels. It is anticipated that in 2040 there will be no new diesel or petrol vehicles sold and that by 2050, diesel and petrol vehicles will be banned.

In line with the Climate Change Act and the Carbon Budget, the NHS as a whole has been challenged to reduce its carbon emissions by 10 per cent by 2015, and 35 per cent by 2020 until an 80 per cent reduction is in place by 2050.

Taking on the challenge

For Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS), developing a sustainable fleet presents a particular challenge. As an emergency service, our vehicles are vital to ensuring we provide a high quality, responsive service to our patients.

Demand for emergency ambulances is increasing year-on-year so when faced with the question of how to reduce our carbon emissions, reducing our fleet is not an option. Vehicles remain in our fleet for at least seven years which means that there are only three buying rounds remaining before 2050 to create a vehicle that is reliable and can withstand the challenges that our emergency ambulance and non-emergency patient transport service vehicles require.

Over the past few years, YAS has been at the cutting edge of ambulance design to reduce the impact of our vehicles in relation to air pollution and carbon emissions. We have been working hard to cut fuel use to achieve cost savings and reduce our carbon footprint. The vehicle type is essential to ensure fuel efficiency.

Reducing emissions

YAS embarked on a carbon reduction programme in 2009 and has been at the cutting edge of ambulance design to reduce the impact of our vehicles in relation to both air pollution and carbon emissions. We have assessed and consolidated our fleet to ensure that the correct number of vehicles are used for the correct purpose. 

Our vehicles are serviced up to six times a year to ensure that they are always running to the best of their capability. Our staff assess the inflation of their tyres as part of their daily vehicle assessment.

This ensures the optimum efficiency for the vehicle as under-inflated or over‑inflated tyres can affect fuel efficiency by three per cent. We have also implemented ‘greener’ tyres across the fleet.

We carried out an assessment of fuel usage and have actively encouraged staff to prioritise bunkered fuel use on our ambulance stations, which has reduced the miles travelled to local refuelling stations. This has delivered savings in excess of £300,000.

In partnership with Leeds University and Manchester University, as well as ambulance converters, we designed an incorporated aerodynamic light bar, which actually improved the efficiency of vehicles over the standard design by 1mpg. We also changed our vehicle specification from a box body ambulance to a van conversion which increased fuel efficiency by five per cent.

Trialling vehicles

We have run trials with a variety of different electric and hybrid vehicles to see how these could be integrated into our fleet. Assessment of a range for electric vehicles identified several challenges including charging infrastructure and driver training on electric vehicles.

To date we have not incorporated any electric vehicles into our fleet as there has been range anxiety and range issues with vehicles that we have trialled.

YAS obtained funding from the Department for Transport for disruptive technology to reduce NOx emissions from our RRVs in 2016. It was identified that during a normal working shift, the vehicles could be stationary for 65 per cent of the time with their engines idling to keep essential equipment functioning. In 2011, in order to combat the issues of idling, YAS installed a methanol fuel cell on a vehicle to eliminate the issue within the fleet. This technology proved too expensive for the fleet.

YAS has recently introduced 109 newly‑designed ambulances into our fleet, fitted with solar panels and lithium ion batteries. Through a redesign and light-weighting project, these vehicles are now some of the most efficient diesel ambulances in the country.

The solar panel trickle charges the batteries with natural daylight and artificial light meaning that the batteries can always be fully charged and there is no need for engines to be run to keep the batteries charged to support all the life-saving devices required in the vehicles. This also means that there are no tailpipe emissions, so no diesel fumes, NOx or carbon emissions.

We have 109 DCAs in the YAS fleet which have had solar panels fitted on their roof  in the factory. The charge will then feed into new lightweight lithium batteries that we have fitted in these vehicles.

YAS will have electric hydrogen vans in the fleet from June 2017. These have been financed by the Office of Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) through its hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) Fleet Support Scheme. YAS will be using the ITM Power hydrogen refuelling station located in Sheffield, which is solely wind powered, ensuring that the hydrogen generated is entirely a green fuel. This is one of the most northerly English hydrogen stations at present.

The World Health Organisation classified diesel fuel as carcinogenic in 2012. The vast majority of ambulance service vehicles in the UK are run on diesel. YAS wants to be at the cutting edge of new fuel technology and vehicles in order to trial vehicles and ensure that they can cut emissions and reach their targets of reducing carbon emissions across the region as well as work to preserve the health of the patients they serve.

Electric, hydrogen, CNG

Our Patient Transport Service (PTS) vehicles travel between 150 and 200 miles a day. Our A&E vehicles travel between 200 and 600 miles a day. At present the EV battery technology is not advanced enough for our daily mileage needs. Also the recharging downtime is limiting for an active service. Hydrogen has the capability of filling this gap with a refuelling time of around three minutes for 2-3kg of hydrogen.

CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) could also bridge this gap but initial investigations carried out showed that if we fitted CNG or LPG tanks to our ambulances we could get the range, but due to the weight, we couldn’t actually transport patients.

Due to CNG and LPG being a carbon based fuel, even though it is cleaner running than diesel, we are looking to back hydrogen and electricity due to their capacity to run on renewables and be generated from clean sources.

Future plans

In the future, we are hoping to build a prototype hydrogen electric ambulance that will have zero emissions. The next generation of electric vehicles with a longer range will have the capacity to fit into our fleet duty cycle for some of our vehicles.

We are in the process of assessing mileage and travel range as well as the type of technology that is most applicable to our fleet. We are looking to work with hospitals to implement charging points for EVs. We need to ensure that the public infrastructure is in place before we can commit to new ‘green’ vehicles as our vehicles need access to refuelling across the region.

We were part of a successful bid from OLEV for hydrogen vehicles. Our hydrogen vehicles will be used as ambulance fleet manoeuvre support vehicles to test the boundaries of the technology. As there is at present only one hydrogen refuelling station in the region, the electric capacity of the Kangoo vehicles will provide a fail‑safe back-up for the vehicles if the hydrogen runs out.

The support vehicles travel a maximum distance of up to 250 miles a day which is the capacity of the Kangoo hydrogen electric conversion (100 miles on electric and 150 miles on hydrogen). As more hydrogen refuelling stations are installed across the region we will move the vehicles around to so more staff can use them.

As Leeds is set to have a clean air zone implemented in 2018, we will be looking to locate this vehicle and similar vehicles in the city centre. Other cities are likely to follow suit and more chargeable clean air zones (up to 32) will be implemented across the country.

The YAS driver trainers will have vehicle specific familiarisation training carried out by Arcola Energy prior to the vehicles being delivered and this will then be passed down through the normal training protocols. Training on how to operate the self-service refuelling station will be given directly to the drivers by ITM Power. 

Drivers will be trained how to refuel the vehicles at the hydrogen refuelling station as well as the safety aspects associated with the technology. As these vehicles are an electric hybrid, drivers will be trained how to plug in and recharge the battery within the vehicle as well as where to recharge if required. Regeneration technology means there is the capacity to recharge the electric batteries whilst driving the vehicles.

Dual fuel technology

We are part of a successful bid from Innovate UK with ULEMco to implement an innovative hydrogen dual-fuel technology hybrid system to one of our non-emergency PTS vehicles.

Our vehicle will be converted and on the road by Summer 2017. This vehicle will have up to an 80 per cent reduction in tailpipe emissions.

We have worked with Leeds City Council, York City Council, Bradford City Council, East Riding of Yorkshire Council and the local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to ensure that a sustainable low to zero emission refuelling infrastructure is in place for the future.

We are also working with a variety of organisations including Zero Carbon Yorkshire to look at the infrastructure across the region and see where there is the need to implement and install alternative refuelling technologies.

Challenges for greener fleets

Driving the new generation of vehicles is in principle exactly the same as driving any other vehicle on the road but the refuelling and recharging process is different. Staff training will be essential for future fleet drivers as the skills required to drive new fuelled vehicles will be very different for example, electric vehicle drivers will need to understand the eco driving mode that can enable them to increase the miles they travel.

At present there are very few specialist mechanics in the UK who maintain and service hydrogen vehicles. We will have an agreement in place with Arcola Symbio (hydrogen vehicle converters) and Renault for the maintenance programme.

We are looking to get our YAS mechanics trained up to maintain hydrogen vehicles in the longer term. There is also the challenge for electric vehicles with a shortage of mechanics to service the vehicles. There needs to be a training programme to accommodate the requirements for servicing the next generation of vehicles.

The grid infrastructure is likely to be a challenge as the new generation of electric vehicles will require electricity for recharging and in some cases with rapid recharging there may not be the capacity in the local grid to supply the electricity. Grid upgrades can be expensive. To be a truly green fleet, fleet managers will have to engage with their estates teams to look at getting green electricity suppliers to provide their energy or look to get solar/wind installed.

Vehicle to grid (V-2-G) is set to have an impact on resolving a lot of the energy requirements for the grid load. This is where a vehicle will be used as a battery to charge the grid between set hours and then can be recharged when the demand on the grid is less (i.e. middle of the night).

The next generation of refuelling infrastructure is a challenge in many parts of the country. At present there is patchy public electric vehicle recharging locations, there are only 13 hydrogen refuelling stations and there are only a few CNG stations across the UK.

Workshops that store hydrogen vehicles will be limited by the amount of air surrounding the vehicles in order to minimise the explosion potential from leaked gas. At present there are no standards in place.

Yorkshire missed out on the electric vehicle infrastructure funding through the Plugged in Places grants a few years ago so there is very little publicly-accessible electric vehicle infrastructure across the region. It is essential that local councils engage with the fleet users, like ourselves, who do not return to base regularly and will rely on recharging and refuelling infrastructure to ensure that we can continue to drive our vehicles throughout the day.

There are many challenges ahead and fleet managers must be aware and work towards eliminating the issues before they become a problem in order to carry on the day-to-day.

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