Looking to the future with electric garbage trucks

At a time when cities’ top priority is reducing emissions, gas-guzzling garbage trucks are at the very top of the list in terms of polluting vehicles. But the city of Rotterdam has decided to tackle this issue head-on by purchasing a pair of state-of-the-art electric garbage trucks.

The 28-ton, gold-painted EMOSS ZE looks like a standard garbage truck, but glides almost silently through the streets of the Netherlands’ second city thanks to its electric motor.

The trucks join Rotterdam’s growing fleet of electric vehicles, which includes 527 electric scooters and bicycles, 213 electric and 204 hybrid passenger cars, 37 electric vans, two larger electric sweepers and three smaller sweepers. It’s safe to say that with this collection, the city is committed to its goal of being emission-free in ten years’ time.

As a buyer from a government, we must stimulate the market.
— Richard Brabers, Category Buyer Mobility, Rotterdam

Overcoming problems

“Every city has a huge challenge to have a zero-emission fleet by 2030,” says Richard Brabers, a category buyer for mobility at the Rotterdam city council. With this goal in mind for many other cities, the Big Buyers Initiative has come at the right time. The scheme aims to bring together cities and public purchasing bodies into groups to help align purchasing power, share knowledge and innovations and develop a joint statement of demand and lessons learned on procuring heavy duty vehicles.

“Rotterdam has maybe some more experience than other cities, but we must help each other,” says Brabers.

With the city’s electric garbage trucks now having driven many miles and emptied many bins, Brabers and his colleague Paul van Emmerik have learned a lot about the reality of powering a 28-ton behemoth with green power. “The problem is really the charging,” says van Emmerik, the city’s manager of sustainable fleetcare. “It’s all about charging, and the renewable energy you want to have, and you have to be able to stock it over the seasons.”

Electric garbage truck.
© City of Rotterdam

“The cost of the charging infrastructure is also expensive,” adds Brabers. Clearly, making sure that a service vehicle in operation on a daily basis has enough battery is a much different challenge from charging a personal vehicle – and this is before factoring in the strain from Rotterdam’s fleet of electric public transport vehicles. “They have a lot of power already, and still they cannot cope with the power they need,” adds van Emmerik.

A need for expertise

While Rotterdam has a fairly developed electric vehicle charging network, other cities in the Big Buyers group do not. But the collaboration allows for the other municipalities to adjust their future procurement plans accordingly.

And the knowledge-sharing permitted by the Big Buyers group also revealed other challenges to overcome for cities’ fleets to become fully electric in the coming years.

Following several online dialogues organised by buyers from cities across Europe with suppliers of e-trucks, it’s clear that the e-trucks are not equally available across Europe. E-trucks are sometimes only available at dealers who have the knowledge and the support.

Van Emmerik agrees, and says that the cities themselves also need some experience with electric vehicles so they know what to ask for when putting in an order. “We have our own department with our own working places where we can service the trucks, so we have the knowledge from ourselves,” he says. “If you have to rely on a dealer, the dealer doesn’t have that knowledge. You have to learn it for yourself, first.”

The Big Buyers Initiative provided the perfect occasion for this. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis limited the opportunities for study visits and collaboration, which was slightly disappointing for Brabers. He visited an Aebi Schmidt factory in south Germany just prior to the onset of the crisis in March, before the group’s work shifted online. “It is also good to see the factory location and it’s more interesting than a webinar,” he says. Despite this, he insists that the webinars still provided a good learning opportunity.

Looking to the future

Following the group’s final meeting on October 23, the pair from Rotterdam reflect on its impact and the path ahead for electric heavy-duty vehicles. Although still in its early days and relying on technology that might require further development, Brabers and van Emmerik see the shift to full-electric on the horizon. Even private logistics companies in the Netherlands are getting in on the action, with companies adding to their fleets of electric trucks.

“As a buyer from a government, we must give the right signal. We must stimulate the market. With the Big Buyers group, we give attention, we motivate each other,” says Brabers. With a growing participation in the group, he hopes that information sharing and collaboration will bring cities towards their goals of carbon neutrality in the coming years.

“We have to make big steps, but if we do it together, it’s easier,” says Brabers.

ICLEI and Eurocities are currently running the initiative on behalf of the European Commission, DG Internal Market, Industry Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW).

For more information and results from the Big Buyers Initiative, visit the project’s website. The group’s work will continue under a new project called the Big Buyers for Climate and Environment. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting new opportunity.