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Special Edition: Sustainable Supply Chain

Eco friendly methane trucks optimise supply chain for Nestle

By Oliver Nieburg , 09-Nov-2011

Eco friendly methane trucks optimise supply chain for Nestle

Nestle UK has scooped an award for its use of methane trucks that has reduced CO2 emissions by 14% compared to diesel trucks with further potential to slash emissions in half.

The company received the ECR award for Sustainable Distribution at the Institute of Grocery Distribution’s Food Industry Awards last month for a 10-month pilot project to find an alternative to diesel trucks.

The initiative saw Nestle team with logistics firm Eddie Stobart to use environmentally friendly trucks powered by methane to transport goods in the UK.

Richard Hastings, head of delivery at Nestle UK, told FoodProductionDaily.com: “For quite a while we have been looking at alternatives to diesel. We became aware of a truck that Volvo was testing in the market where the truck uses liquidated methane or bio-methane which you can get as a by-product in anerobic digestion or from land fill sites.”

The methane produced through this procedure can be processed into a workable fuel used to power vehicles.

Methane powered trucks

There are a total of five methane trucks operating in the UK – three of which are held by Nestle. The trucks, held at a depot near Leicester, have travelled around 250,000km nationwide to date.

Hastings said the trucks’ exhaust pipes gave a 14% reduction in CO2 compared to normal diesel trucks.

He added that there was further potential to cut CO2 emissions by 70% if the trucks could run purely on bio-methane.

Refuelling issues

He said the real problem was that there were currently only four refuelling stations in the UK and only one, based near Bristol, used solely bio-methane. The others use a mixture.

“There is also an issue with sending them on the Eurotunnel train and ferry because they have compressed gas on board, so they must be shipped with the gas tanks empty,” he explained.

He said that even if the trucks reached mainland Europe, methane refuelling stations were again scarce.

There are just 20 methane trucks operating in Europe, which are based mainly in Sweden where there are refuelling sites.

Potential cost savings

“We expect that the first trucks will be cost neutral with a diesel truck,” said Hastings.

He explained that the truck itself was around 25-30% more expensive and repairs were also pricier. However, fuel was a little cheaper and the truck was far quieter than a diesel engine, he said.

“In time we expect it will be cost beneficial but for now the main benefit is environmental,” he continued.

No government incentives currently exist to use the trucks and Hastings said he was unsure whether any tax breaks would be introduced in future.

Keep on trucking

He said Nestle was in discussion with Eddie Stobart over new range of Volvo methane trucks that are currently in production and due to be released next year. Volvo is producing 35 trucks for the UK and 150 for Europe.

Hastings said it was too early to tell how many Nestle would look to acquire but said that the real need was a solid network of refuelling points. He said that the lack of stations meant Nestle may have to share with its competitors.

Nestle already shares its current batch of methane trucks with United Biscuits as part of the 2006/07 Food Industry Sustainability Strategy target to reduce environmental impact 20% by 2012.

“It just so happened we were at a workshop together and released that United Biscuits were going in the same direction and it seemed sensible that one of us should do the journey back,” said Hastings.

He estimated that the scheme, which has been going four years and has recently expanded, saves 250,000km per year in travel.

Anaerobic digestion site

It is possible that Nestle could maximise the potential of the methane trucks in future by producing its own fuel through an anaerobic digestion facility due to be built at its Fawdon site near Newcastle for 2013.

Waste from Rowntrees products, Breakaway, Rolo and Toffee Crisp could be used to power 15% of the plant and help it achieve 0% to landfill while cutting water treatment costs, according to Hastings.

On track for further CO2 reductions

To further cut emissions Hastings said that Nestle was also looking to the rail network.

“We hope to get 1.15% of km onto rail by 2015,” he said. Nestle UK currently transport 0.5% by rail.

“The stumbling block is the loading gauge on rail but this is soon to be resolved,” he said.

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