Malcolm Bates IFAT Review - Bigger is Better : IN PICTURES: IFAT Waste & Recycling Plant Equipment Review

Malcolm Bates waste recycling collection rcv ifat
© Malcolm Bates

This year, Malcolm Bates spent three days at IFAT in Munich - and still didn’t get to meet everyone on his list! So what are the latest trends we should all be looking out for? The most innovative new products? And which brands are the ones to watch? Let’s find out...

Let’s start with some statistics - after all, we are talking about an event held in Germany, so we can be sure there will be plenty! The 2018 IFAT event attracted a total of 141,000 visitors from 160 countries - a 4% increase over the previous event in 2016.

Can you name 160 different countries? No, me neither. In total, 3,305 exhibitors took space this year. True, a large number of the 18 covered halls were devoted to water supply and sewer technology, with just seven directly or indirectly dedicated to waste collection and recycling plant and vehicles.

But even if we do a bit of simple math and take a wild guess (Munich Messe hasn’t published a breakdown of visitor’s specific interests), the statistics suggest that a minimum of 60,000 visitors could have been specifically interested in waste collection, handling and recycling equipment. Even that figure is still mightily impressive.

My point? IFAT really is International. Perhaps an even wider use of English as the ‘official show language’ would make life easier for overseas visitors with English as their second language, but IFAT is already far more international than any other European event. Within a few hours, I had met friends and contacts from the USA, Portugal, Spain, Australia, Finland, Denmark, France and Italy - as well as from Germany and the UK, of course.

Interestingly, whatever the mix, the common language was English - even when nobody from the UK, or USA was present! Data collected by leading manufacturer, Faun recorded visitors from 14 different countries (aside from Germany), including Israel, Russia, Chile, Egypt, Iceland, Australia and New Zealand to the company’s stand - all on the first day of the event!

Enough of the statistics. What about ‘the buzz’ from the event? Predictably, one of the key topics of conversation was the whole issue of alternative fuel technology - and specifically, which way our industry should go in meeting the calls for reduced-emissions in inner-city zones from the environmental lobby.

Leaving aside the obvious argument that highway engineering schemes in many urban areas have had the effect of slowing down traffic flows (on the pretext that slower vehicles are ‘safer’ for cyclists and pedestrians) which have had the side effect of increasing pollution, our industry is now facing a number of very expensive options that will do nothing to prevent transport and collection vehicles from getting stuck in traffic. It’s just that they will be producing fewer emissions while doing so!


If there is a practical advantage in operating true ‘zero emissions’ battery electric vehicles - the term is not strictly true as battery electrics will still produce dust emissions and some noise - then it is that quieter vehicles have the ability to undertake collections in urban downtown areas earlier in the morning, or perhaps throughout the night, without disturbing residents.

Yes, you could argue that ‘quietness’ is just another side effect - a bonus, of you prefer - but discussions with design and development engineers at IFAT suggest there are still a few very difficult ‘what if?’ questions to answer before the potential purchasers of new, zero-emissions vehicles have the confidence to go ahead with large fleet orders. But I would argue this ‘side effect’ is a far more positive one. In fact, it could tip the whole economic balance in favour of electrics.

Putting it bluntly, aside from any specific national or International law banning currently-legal diesel vehicles in city centres, it’s difficult to put a cash value on zero emissions vehicles. How much is cleaner air worth?

This is not a cynical question - if electric garbage collection vehicles cost more to purchase, yet only do say, 75% of the work, one way or another, local taxpayers will have to pay the difference. In this case, up to double the cost.

Yes, at present, an electric vehicle will cost around twice as much as that of a perfectly legal diesel unit. It may, or may not, carry the same payload at the same sort of speeds - typically, it will lose at least a tonne and be marginally slower.

On the other hand? What was once seen as a major drawback - lack of battery ‘range’ to last an entire working shift - does now seem to be less of an issue. The big problem? A battery electric vehicle will still have another ‘zero’ attached to it’s use - zero residual value after a working life that, at present, can only be guessed at.

In theory, it should outlast a diesel vehicle, but it has to last for more than seven years on the original batteries to ‘break even’ (compared to a diesel vehicle’s running costs) in order to be economically viable. And that’s still not ‘a given’ fact.

Any plus points, then? Again, discussions at IFAT suggest that yes, there are - braking system and tyre maintenance and replacement costs are considerably lower on battery electric trucks, according to PVI distributor Brian Olesen from Phoenix Danmark. And recent hikes in diesel fuel costs, suggest more real savings might be had.

But here’s the biggest potential bonus - an electric vehicle working a very early morning shift downtown, should be able to collect the same amount of garbage in significantly less time than a conventional diesel-fuelled vehicle that is unable to start the shift before 6.30 or 7am and then gets stuck in commuter traffic.

Except? Except in many of the world’s destination cities, there are local laws in place that prevent garbage trucks from working before that time - even electric ones! That has to change.

The bottom line? Simple. If an electric RCV costs twice as much as a diesel vehicle, it needs to do twice as much work.That way, all the environmental advantages come ‘for free’ and do not then become a matter of political debate and tension between ecologists and commercial interests - as is the situation in the USA and the UK, for example.


But is battery-electric power the only solution? No, not according to George Sandkuhler of Faun. George is one of the leading technical brains in our industry and has been looking at alternative power systems in waste and recycling vehicles many years - long before it became such a ‘sexy’ media topic.

He concedes that early projects involving dual-fuel or hybrid technologies seemed like a good idea at the time - we all thought so - but the thinking has moved on, since. The problem? Unlike a car or SUV, there is little space - or spare gross weight capacity - to build TWO power systems into each truck chassis.

Two different technologies also equal double the chance of downtime, so... The way that technicians like George Sandkuhler are now thinking, is that in future, a large city waste and recycling fleet might have to be made up of two, possibly three, different types of vehicle - each with a ‘tailored’ powertrain and fuel option to match a specific operational task.

We now have live telematics to help plan route efficiency, so reaching optimum utilisation is no longer an issue. So this could result in battery electrics for a ‘zero-emissions’ inner-city zone, CNG-fuelled, plug-in hybrids (or chassis using either some form of diesel-electric system with a limited battery-only mode, or a diesel power unit with hydrogen injection technology) for suburban operations.

And finally? Conventional diesel powered units for rural and inter-urban operations where air quality is not an issue because traffic can move without being slowed by congestion.

While the production and distribution of hydrogen fuel on a wide scale is still some way off - and has safety and counter-terrorism issues that need to be addressed - many suggest it has considerable as-yet unrealised potential. And we’re not just talking refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) here, but also precinct and highway sweepers and other infrastructure maintenance vehicles.

Bottom line?Add some hydrogen-fuelled buses and taxies into the mix and that should make a dedicated refuelling plant viable.

So, if those were the main topics of debate, can we find any new products that reflect these lines of thinking? You bet!

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