Every industry has a collective responsibility to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in order to combat the toxic air pollution crisis prevalent in urban areas worldwide, and the municipal sector is no different. FACTS spoke exclusively to Graham Howlett, UK Sales and Marketing Manager at Johnston Sweepers, to learn how the company places environmental considerations at the very centre of its design philosophy.

FACTS (F): What can you tell me about Johnston’s history with alternative fuels?

Graham Howlett (GH): We first started looking at alternative fuels back in the noughties, developing a sweeper to run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) for Paris in 2005 and going on to work with Freightliner in the USA to introduce the same technology for California.

We have been investigating CNG in particular for some time and until very recently saw it as the most likely fuel source for the future – and certainly as a solution for trucks, for which batteries were not then a viable option. It is the cleanest burning transportation fuel available, and last year we launched the VS651 CNG truck mounted sweeper, driven by a single 210Hp engine, which we engineered in collaboration with Iveco to be powered solely by CNG.

The City of Paris immediately brought in 26 of the CNG sweepers, with more orders following, ahead of the legislation being brought in this year banning diesel vehicles manufactured before 2005, as part of the city’s campaign against air pollution, with a total ban coming into force in 2024.

Leeds City Council was the first UK authority to introduce our CNG machine to its fleet as part its Clean Air Initiative, which aims to have all vehicles on its fleet running on CNG or other alternative fuels by 2020. The CNG option had already been tried and tested by Leeds, with a number of its refuse collection vehicles running on the fuel.

F: What about hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) options?

GH: We had also been looking at HVO as an alternative fuel option and in 2017 we were the first sweeper company in the UK to be granted approval to use HVO across our entire range. HVO is a fast and immediate fix for local authorities and fleet operators looking to cut out or cut down on their diesel usage within their current fleets, and needs no engine modifications or cleaning of tanks, and does not affect warranties. It is a drop-in fuel that can be mixed with diesel if necessary and is fully interchangeable from fill to fill.

F: What do you see as the most viable way forward for the mainstream?

GH: We now see electric power as the mainstream way to go, with most chassis manufacturers developing this option. We already had an electric-powered Compact sweeper available as part of our range, the City Cat EV, and have now developed what we believe to be Europe’s first full-size fully electric truck mounted sweeper, the VE652, otherwise known as evie (Electric Vehicle/Intelligent Electronics). It is a full-size truck sweeper mounted on a specially modified 16 tonne chassis, and driven by a high-performance 350kW electric motor, powered by a 200kWh Lithium Ion Phosphate battery-pack. Our engineering team first started developing this as a proof of concept vehicle to see if it was possible for a 16-tonne fully electric sweeper to perform a complete work shift on an overnight charge – and it has proved that it can. The result is a zero-emissions, low-noise,
low-maintenance full-size sweeper – which we see as industry-changing going forward.

It is all very exciting because it is the first sweeper of its kind in Europe – and we believe it is probably the first commercially available in the world – and it is going to give authorities the opportunity to make a real difference to air and noise pollution.

A first production batch is currently being built at our manufacturing plant in Surrey, and there has already been huge interest from cities all over the world.

F: What does the future hold for the Johnston range in terms of alternative fuels?

GH: Bucher (Johnston Sweepers’ parent group) are investing heavily in alternative fuels and plan to electrify the whole product range. We already have a 2m3 compact sweeper, a truck mounted road sweeper, a truck mounted spreader and demountable spreader available to purchase today.

For more information: Johnston Sweepers