Scarborough Borough Council: HVO fleet decarbonisation trial

In order to reduce the carbon footprint of the Council and demonstrate leadership locally, regionally, and nationally, Scarborough Borough Council has rolled out hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) into almost two thirds of its fleet vehicles. The fuel is being used as a straight replacement for diesel in the majority of the diesel fleet, from bin wagons to ride-on mowers. Over the course of a full year, the project could lower emissions by up to 900 tCO2e.

The challenge

Despite being a relatively small Borough Council, responsible for around 108,000 residents spread across rural villages and coastal towns, lowering the carbon emissions of the Council’s activity has been a key aim at Scarborough Borough Council for several years and was given increased priority with the declaration of a Climate Emergency in January 2019 and the adoption of a Climate Change Strategy in July 2021. The Council’s fleet has consistently contributed the most to the Council’s carbon footprint, with carbon emissions at 1157tCO2e in 2021/22 (57 per cent of our net footprint). While in recent years the Council has begun operating a handful of smaller electric vehicles, transitioning the entire fleet including the heavier vehicles has been a significant challenge. 
That challenge comes in four main areas: cost, lead times, local geography, and electrical capacity within the depots. As many councils have experienced, the upfront capital cost of procuring electric vehicles, especially heavy goods vehicles, is significantly higher than fossil fuel vehicles. This remains a key barrier to transition to alternative fuels which could immediately reduce the fleet’s carbon footprint. This immediacy would also be hampered by the current lead times for the delivery of electric vehicles, with widespread issues in the supply chain meaning lead times can now be over a year for a specialist electric vehicle to become available. Another key issue faced is the geography of Scarborough borough – as a borough with an eclectic mix of towns, coasts, and rural villages, our fleet’s routes are long, winding, and hilly so we would need the most powerful electric vehicles on the market. Operating a large number of vehicles from two depots, all with similar working patterns, would mean a significant need for energy at key times, which greatly outstrips the existing capacity of the depots and would requiring significant electrical upgrades at a high cost.

The solution

To achieve our ambitions of a significant carbon footprint reduction quickly, the solution thus had to be affordable, immediate, allow services to continue without impact, and not put strain on our infrastructure. Following discussions with our supplier, we identified HVO fuel as an ideal solution. This fuel is made from waste cooking oils and has a carbon footprint up to 90 per cent lower than diesel. Crucially, what makes HVO unique among biofuels is that it is a like-for-like replacement for diesel so can be used by our fleet at a small fuel cost increase rather than the expensive capital cost of replacing vehicles and upgrading our electrical infrastructure. It was also ready to be delivered almost immediately, meaning no long wait times before seeing any impact on our carbon footprint. Finally, with negligible impact on miles per gallon it could easily cope with the difficult routes in our area. 
Following agreements with manufacturers, we have been able to put HVO into almost two-thirds of our fleet, replacing almost all of our diesel fuel. Over the course of the year this could reduce our carbon footprint by up to 900tCO2e, making it the single biggest carbon reduction intervention we have ever undertaken. While a 90 per cent carbon footprint is not perfect, and the 100 per cent reduction through electric and hydrogen vehicles will eventually be delivered when they can overcome our challenges, this is an ideal solution for the transition period.

The impact

To ensure HVO could deliver the benefits promised, it was important to undertake an initial trial in a small number of vehicles to monitor its impact on vehicle performance. Through this trial, it was seen that the use of HVO had negligible impacts on miles per gallon and had no negative effects on engine health. All vehicles that were approved for HVO use switched and to date have seen no maintenance issues as a result. As a result, since May we have used 108,000 litres of HVO to fuel our cars, vans, mowers, and refuse collection vehicles. In just these first few months the project has saved 267,849 kgCO2e. As a result of the volatile fuel prices in recent months, and with HVO prices being directly impacted by the war in Ukraine where much vegetable oil is produced, the cost of the project has fluctuated and we estimate the cost to date at £45,000, equating to £168/tCO2e. 
As well as carbon savings, it was also important that there were no negative unintentional environmental impacts caused by the fuel switch, so we made sure in procurement that our HVO is palm oil free.

How is the approach being sustained?

With no government grants available for this project, the funding has come from Council budgets. As the project needs minimal infrastructure change, a procurement agreement is in place with the supplier, and the supply chain seems strong despite the challenges of the war in Ukraine. The approach can be sustained for as long the budget remains, with electric and hydrogen vehicles being brought on board to replace HVO as and when they can meet the challenges of our fleet.

Lessons learned

A key lesson learned in this was to have a trial period before a launch through the wider fleet to ensure that the impacts on vehicle performance we as expected. 
The main takeaway is that a substantial carbon footprint reduction for the fleet is possible without the great capital expense of switching vehicles over to electric or hydrogen, giving us an ideal transition fuel while the zero carbon options improve to meet our challenges.