Hybrid rubbish trucks and buses launched in Europe

Traditional refuse trucks can be a disturbance due to their noise and waste a lot fuel while idling during rounds

by Michel Smith

Being rudely awoken early in the morning by the sound of a rubbish collection truck rumbling along the road is a familiar irritation of modern life. In addition to that there is the noise then created by the crews working at speed and hence making somewhat of a racket.

Residents of Göteburg, in Sweden, however, have been given longer lie-ins since waste firm Renova started piloting a hybrid rubbish truck made by the Volvo Group, which is virtually silent and reduces emissions.

The rubbish truck uses an electric engine at low speeds and when stationary, and the diesel engine kicks in when the speedometer reaches 20 kilometres an hour (about 12 miles per hour).

Stefan Lindberg, driver of the truck, said: "All the people know that big trucks are very noisy. Now we come down the streets and you can't hear the truck - you just see it."

One drawback with those trucks, as with all hybrid vehicles, is their silence which makes them a danger to anyone who is visually impaired. The truck will be upon them before they even know.

This kind of refuse truck is one of a number of large vehicles, including buses and construction equipment, on which Volvo is installing what it calls its fourth-generation hybrid technology, where an electric motor and diesel engine work in parallel and are used where they are most effective.

Volvo said this has increased the engine capacity compared with other hybrids, while reducing fuel consumption and improving driving characteristics.

"In a few years' time, hybrid technology will no longer be a special solution but a technology found in most new city buses and distribution trucks," Lief Johansson, president and CEO of Volvo Group said.

"The fourth generation hybrid technology has the potential to make such a development possible."

The company believes the technology will be commercially viable because it uses a large number of standard components that can be used across a range of different vehicles, and is adaptable, reducing production costs and times.

"Volvo believes that the prospects are favourable for developing hybrid technology for all heavy vehicle segments - everything from buses and construction equipment to trucks for distribution and long-haul traffic," Mr Johansson added.

As well as the ongoing refuse truck pilot, Volvo Buses has also launched its new hybrid bus, the Volvo 7700 Hybrid, in Europe.

Production of the bus, which can provide fuel savings of up to 30%, is scheduled to start next year, and field trials will be carried out in London.

In addition to the technology being commercially viable because it uses a large number of standard components that can be used across a range of different vehicles, and its adaptability, as mentioned by the Volvo representative, the fact that fuel costs are hitting the roofs adds to their viability in general.

I know I am a little old-fashioned, to say the least, but the way we are going as regards to the use and abuse of fossil fuels makes me wonder whether some things might not be best done by a wagon pulled by four-legged friends again soon. No, not dogs; that would be daft.

However, the horse has made a comeback and is becoming more and more used in forestry operations again so why should not soon dustcarts be drawn by horses, yet again. Maybe the old totters could also make a comeback with regards to recyclables. Not before time either.

While the clop-clop of horses' hooves early in the morning might also upset some people and the droppings would have some people sure turn up their noses, in my opinion, horse-drawn municipal vehicles could be an answer to some problems, especially that of fuel costs and purchase or leasing costs of the huge dustcarts in use today.

© M Smith (Veshengro), October 2008