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£30 million allocated for highway decarbonisation projects

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Cutting-edge, innovative ideas to decarbonise the country’s highways are the key aim of the £30 million Live Labs 2 competition, announced and funded by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The funding will support pioneering projects looking at ways to decarbonise local highways infrastructure in regions across the UK. There will be a particular focus on making the construction, maintenance and running of the UK’s roads more sustainable.

Now in its second round of funding, the competition, organised by the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), is the latest move in the government’s drive to create cleaner air and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The launch of the second round of the competition follows the success of the first £22.9 million Live Labs programme which launched in May 2019 and supported the creation of 8 local projects testing innovative solutions on local roads.

Previous projects included:

  • fibre cables that detect vibrations from vehicles and dynamically change signal junctions to combat congestion
  • trials involving drones to detect potholes in Kent
  • plastic roads in Cumbria to boost value for money in the construction of highways

Staffordshire County Council also secured the expertise of 2 industry leaders to install plant-based living walls to tackle roadside emissions. The walls act as natural filters made from plants and mosses as part of a national clean air trial.

Meanwhile, Buckinghamshire Council and Suffolk County Council demonstrated how the application of smart transport technology can be expanded to offer greater social value than initially anticipated.

Their project involved repurposing road sensors, typically used to monitor traffic volumes and weather conditions, to be used in adult social care.

The technology was additionally used to allow vulnerable people to live independently for longer by installing the sensors around a house to monitor daily activities, sending signals to carers when needed.

Paula Hewitt, ADEPT President, said: “ADEPT is delighted to be able to move ahead on Live Labs 2 with this new round of DfT funding and support. The highways and transport sector is the UK’s single biggest carbon emitter and although we are seeing a transition to electric vehicles, there is a huge gap where we are yet to tackle road infrastructure and maintenance.

“Local authorities are perfectly placed to lead the drive to create net zero highways and local roads from the bottom up. The Live Labs format has proven particularly successful for highways authorities, enabling rapid change, innovation and experimentation.

“Following the success of the first ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme, Live Labs 2 aims to build on the partnerships between DfT, councils, commercial partners, SMEs and academia to deliver scalable zero carbon objectives with potential for commercialisation and applicability to diverse areas across the UK.”

The ADEPT Live Labs initiative demonstrates the government’s commitment to investing in innovation to decarbonise the UK’s transport network, with the aim of making it greener and more efficient for all.

By issuing significant investments for each project, the fund aims to help local highways authorities and enterprises develop and propel their ideas to market even quicker.

Infrastructure crucial to future of hydrogen-powered panel van fleets

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The rate of growth of the hydrogen refuelling infrastructure is likely to dictate which power option many fleets choose for panel vans over the next few years, says FleetCheck.

The fleet software specialist points out that, for some fleets, the EV panel vans now on sale require considerable operational compromise, which hydrogen could potentially solve.

Peter Golding, managing director at FleetCheck, said: “For fleets that carry low-medium weights in urban environments over short-medium distances, an electric panel van is a good solution, and there are a wide range of options becoming available on the market.

“However, if you currently move more than a tonne payload 200-300 miles in a day, up and down motorways, they are much less practical. In winter, completing that kind of working day could require not just an overnight charge but a couple of additional charges.

“That is why hydrogen is being talked about more and more by operators, and was a major source of conversation at the recent CV Show, with the hydrogen Vivaro on the Vauxhall stand due for arrival in 2023 a particular source of speculation. Because it can be refuelled with the speed and ease of a diesel vehicle, while providing similar range, it potentially solves those specific operational problems to which EVs are arguably not well suited.”

Golding added that there were two barriers to hydrogen adoption for panel van operators – cost and the current absence of hydrogen fuelling stations across most areas of the country.

“Something like the Vivaro will have to be manufactured in quite large numbers to make its purchase price and running costs viable. That could happen but will only occur if there is a usefully large refuelling infrastructure in place and there just isn’t at present.

“Of course, we will need widespread growth of hydrogen stations within a number of years because hydrogen will almost certainly be the motive power for bus and truck decarbonisation by 2040, but shorter-term provision is much more uncertain. Even the hydrogen buses now in operation are being depot-fuelled, I understand.

“In a very real sense, whether fleets ultimately end up using hydrogen or battery electric power for medium panels vans will very much be dictated by the speed of growth of the hydrogen infrastructure. There is little question that hydrogen itself is a better operational solution but only if you can actually get hold of fuel with relative ease.”

A further question, Golding added, would be whether van manufacturers would be able to call on sufficient resources to develop electric and hydrogen drive trains side-by-side.

“The switch to electrification is already creating a demand for massive investment in new technology for manufacturers. Whether they have an appetite to do the same for hydrogen in parallel must be very much open to question, despite its potential advantages.”

Electric vehicle range is the wrong thing to be worrying about 

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Fleet Managers staring down the barrel of the 2030 ICE vehicle sale ban have become preoccupied with the issue of electric vehicle range. It’s often cited as the number one barrier to the adoption of EVs, alongside concerns about where to charge. But what if that’s the wrong thing to be worrying about?

Mark Roberts, CEO of Lightfoot, argues that the real issue isn’t vehicle performance, but driver performance.

Read on here…

Arval UK: Latest budget will continue to boost electric vehicle uptake in fleets

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The March budget, announced before the country entered lockdown, created conditions that are expected to continue to increase electric company car and van uptake in fleets, says Arval UK.

Measures announced by the Chancellor provided a stable platform from which businesses could begin to increase electric vehicle (EV) adoption over the next few years – said David Watts (pictured), consultant at Arval. However, there were a few caveats of which fleets should be mindful.

“The Government adopted a three-pronged approach in its latest budget, with advantageous tax measures for both businesses and drivers, expenditure to support the growth of recharging infrastructure and a commitment to support the EV new car and van markets.

“In this context our view is that, taken as a whole, this represents an overall boost for fleets that are looking to adopt EVs in substantial numbers in the medium-term.”

He added: “Although the budget reduced the new plug-in car grant  and removed it from vehicles costing more than £50,000,taken alongside the already-announced 0% benefit-in-kind tax rate for EV drivers in 2020-21 and the government’s mooted plans to end petrol and diesel production in 2035, the  announcements will undoubtedly still continue to help cement uptake of EVs from businesses and company car drivers.”

Arval UK had already been in extensive discussions with fleets before the lockdown about how they could add EVs to their operations, David confirmed. These were continuing and could lead to an unleashing of demand once businesses began to function normally once more.

“Much of the work we are doing within the Arval Consulting team is on integrating ultra-low or zero emissions vehicles into choice lists in an effective manner, so that they become a viable and attractive option for drivers. Where this is being done, uptake tends to increase dramatically.”