Advantage Amsterdam: Biogas/Battery Hybrid Enters Service

The French have the ideal phrase for what I'm feeling right now - De ja vu.

Saving the Planet. Driver Jan de Vries (centre) and his crew are first to operate new generation Ginaf-based Geesink Norba 'Plug-in' hybrid in the Afvalservice West fleet in Amsterdam

Geesink Norba and specialist truck manufacturer Ginaf have produced a 'next generation' compact hybrid to meet the refuse collection needs of the historic city of Amsterdam. Fuelled by the biogas produced from the city's waste, the vehicles will help Amsterdam reduce the carbon footprint of its RCV fleet year on year.

by Malcolm Bates

The French have the ideal phrase for what I'm feeling right now - De ja vu. Although I'm not actually in France. I'm in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. And as we drive over a railway level crossing, I realise this is the same location where I photographed a train load of demountable waste containers entering a waste to energy plant for a previous issue of WMW.

Back to two axles. Fitting the hybrid technology onto the compact narrow track Bio-fuelled Ginaf chassis was a real challenge, but end result offers many operational advantages over current 26 tonne 3-axle units

So why come back? The answer is quite simple - Amsterdam is at the forefront of new thinking in waste collection, transportation and processing, while the authorities throughout the Netherlands are more conscious than many of the potential dangers of not looking after our environment.

There are a couple of added factors that ensure that the Netherlands is in the premier league when it comes to new techniques in waste collection and handling. Firstly, with a population of 16.7 million, there are a lot of people living in a relatively small country - so waste collection and recycling policies have to be efficient. Secondly, cities like Amsterdam have global status as a tourist venue. Which in simple terms means when people come to visit such an historic location, they don't expect their 'visitor experience' to be wrecked by unsightly garbage containers, or litter on the streets.

I'm here with Andre Komen, sales manager at Geesink Norba. Comin is based in Amsterdam, where Geesink Norba has a regional service centre. We're here to visit Jan Verbeek and Bert Hagen at 'Afalservice West', the waste collection and recycling company owned by the City commune (council).

The reason for my visit this time? The city authorities have recently issued a directive far in advance of many other World Heritage sites. It is that downtown areas of Amsterdam should be free of internal combustion engined refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) before the year 2040. That's within just twenty six years. With each RCV expected to have a service life of eight to ten years that means the change has to take place within just three vehicle generations. A big transition in a short time.

I'm interested to find out how Verbeek, Hagens and their team at Gemeete Amsterdam Afvalservice West intend to implement this directive. But in fact, part of the answer is already here in real life for me to see. Or at least it will be in a few minutes, because the week before my visit, the first new generation 'Plug-in Hybrid' RCV went into service in the downtown area.

Energy directly from waste. In Amsterdam, the Afvalservice depot is directly over the road from energy-from-waste facility. Biogas-fuelled refuse collection vehicles refuel at special 'gas station'

Komen has already given me a quick product briefing on the way from Schiphol Airport and the first thing that really stands out, is that after some three decades of RCVs growing in weight and size, with three - or even four - axles now common, Afalservice West has gone back to specifying simple two-axle 18 tonne gross weight units.

Well, when I say 'simple', in fact, the specification is far from simple. Firstly, traffic congestion and other physical width restrictions suggest the standard EU maximum overall width for a truck (2.5 metres) is too wide for downtown Amsterdam and that while a third rear steering axle is fine on the 26 tonne gross units working out in the suburbs, such units are physically too large - and heavy - for the historic canal bridges.


The other main requirement for this new generation of RCV? Noise reduction. There are strict noise limits and working time limits for staff in the Netherlands which make early starts, or late night working with conventional diesel-fuelled RCVs unacceptable. But by producing a quieter, more environmentally friendly unit, night collections in some areas are now possible. But to achieve that? "A hybrid system was essential," Komen explains.

Refueling takes around fifteen minutes

At the time of my visit, just one pre-production unit had been completed and that had gone into service the previous week with driver Jan de Vries and his two man crew. They had already been out and collected the first load of the day, before Komen and I had arrived, so they called by the depot to pick me up for a trip downtown for the second.

The Energy Circle

At first glance, this new generation Plug-in Hybrid looks just like any other mid-sized RCV based on a budget-priced Iveco Eurocargo chassis. But it most definitely isn't. For a start, the 3.2 metre wheelbase chassis has been re-engineered by specialist manufacturer Ginaf and is only 2.2 metres wide overall. And while the cab is based on a standard Iveco product, I'm surprised to find that the steering wheel is on the right hand side (the Dutch drive on the right), thus giving the driver a clear view of the kerb. And the power unit? It is also from Iveco, but isn't a standard 'Euro-6' diesel unit - it's an 8 litre 200hp gas-fuelled unit. That's natural gas, not 'gasolene'.

Reduced size - and overall width - enable new generation Geesink Norba Hybrid to access narrow canal side residential streets in downtown Amsterdam without causing damage to bridges

The idea is that all RCVs in the 28-unit strong Amsterdam Afvalservice West fleet operating in the downtown area will use biogas generated from, yes, you've guessed it, generated from the waste plant, just across the road from the main depot. It doesn't get more sustainable than that!

So, a quick recap: Amsterdam's next generation of RCVs will be smaller than most units used in other cities. And instead of diesel, they will be fuelled by biogas generated from processing the materials they collect. That will reduce the carbon footprint produced by the city's RCVs and as gas-fuelled engines are quieter than even a new Euro-6 diesel unit (by up to 8dBa, I'm told) - they will reduce noise as well.

In-cab monitor gives driver details of battery charge status and condition and fuel usage

But what about the other noises? The hydraulics. The engine revs rising and falling as the PTO takes the stain, for example.

"That's the reason why we are convinced the RCV of the future in downtown areas has to be a compact hybrid on two axles," says Verbeek. "Yes, we accept that the technology to drive the whole vehicle in electric mode still requires further development, but we need to start getting some experience now if we are to move over to a complete zero-emissions fleet in the city centre by 2040", he adds - hence the plug-in battery pack technology for the body/hopper.

But the team at Afalservice West have gone further in terms of 'thinking outside the box' - part of the problem with battery-electric PTOs is one of sustained output. Not only do large lithium-Ion battery packs need complex cooling systems, they are also expensive and reduce payload capacity. Neither are desirable when tax payers money is being spent.

The solution? Working together with designers at Geesink Norba and chassis manufacturer Ginaf, the team at Afalservice West have come up with a refreshingly simple solution. Where some manufacturers have been trying to find ways of using an auxiliary power unit to recharge the battery packs, the Amsterdam Hybrid uses the engine-driven PTO to recharge the battery pack from the gas-fuelled engine as soon as the truck has left the downtown area and is traveling at highway speeds above 10kph.

Automatic engine stop/start facility on Biogas-fuelled Iveco engine and silent Plug-in battery pack for compaction and binlifter systems reduces environmental impact on residents during early morning collections

There is no complex regen braking or battery electric drive option, so the end result is that it's much cheaper and easier to engineer within an 18 tonne gross weight/10 cubic metre load capacity body limit. An engine stop/start system further reduces noise - and fuel consumption - when loading.

This has helped keep the weight of the hybrid installation down to 750kg. It also ensures that the battery pack doesn't need to be religiously charged for an eight hour period each night.

"Which means this new generation Hybrid RCV can work a double shift in each 24-hour period as it only requires a full mains recharge once a week," Hagens confirms.

It was time to see how well this interesting package worked. After a busy career driving all types of truck, it was interesting to note regular driver Jan de Vries's reaction to this new biogas/hybrid combination.

"Yes, the power output is down compared to a comparable diesel truck, but that's mostly due to the torque characteristics of a biogas engine," he explains as he watches out for cyclists who constantly speed past.

The future? Once the system is fully proven, it's quite likely Geesink Norba will be offering the latest Plug-in Hybrid option on larger units such as the new crane-equipped recycling units and possibly even the sideloaders that will be available from next year following an agreement between Geesink Norba and MacDonald Johnston of Australia. The bottom line is hybrids are here to stay.