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.
Despite being a relatively small 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, their fleet’s routes are long, winding, and hilly so they 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.
To achieve their ambitions of a significant carbon footprint reduction quickly, the solution had to be affordable, immediate, allow services to continue without impact, and not put strain on infrastructure. Following discussions with suppliers, the Council 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 the fleet at a small fuel cost increase rather than the expensive capital cost of replacing vehicles and upgrading infrastructure. It was also ready to be delivered almost immediately, meaning no long wait times before seeing any impact on their carbon footprint. Finally, with negligible impact on miles per gallon it could easily cope with the difficult routes in the area.
Following agreements with manufacturers, the Council have been able to put HVO into almost two-thirds of their fleet, replacing almost all of diesel fuel. Over the course of the year this could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 900tCO2e, making it the single biggest carbon reduction intervention they have 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 a good solution for the transition period.
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, between May and September 2022 the Council have used 108,000 litres of HVO to fuel their cars, vans, mowers, and refuse collection vehicles. In 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 they made sure in procurement that their 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 their fleet.
A key lesson learned in this was to have a trial period before a launch through the wider fleet to ensure that the impact on vehicle performance was 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 the Council an ideal transition fuel while the zero carbon options improve to meet their challenges.