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How Waitrose gets its emissions and costs cut

A sharp focus on efficiency and emissions reduction is paying off for UK grocer Waitrose and its fleet


Innovation can take many forms and, due to differing circumstances, one company’s solutions will be difficult to transplant.

More so if, like the British supermarket chain Waitrose, one of two main parts of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP), it is operating in another country.

Still, similarities also exist and there is nothing distinctly Australian about seeking fleet cost savings.

Nationally and internationally, though quite big in Australian terms, Waitrose is a relative grocery and transport minnow.

It casts itself as catering for the more affluent and environmentally conscious section of its market that values ethical business practices.

In this, it has a vested interest in keeping its carbon emissions as low as possible. That is what its customers expect and, to a point, are willing and able to pay for, along with higher quality products.

The offset it strives for is in more efficient vehicle operations and therefor lower running.

Though the group does use third-party logistics providers, an aspect of that is Waitrose’s control of its own truck fleet, which complements its green-focused warehousing component.

There are two main strands in the transport function: bio-methane CNG-powered prime movers and aerodynamic trailers.

Vapour trial

Waitrose has been on a steep learning curve, both with fuel infrastructure and vehicle and trailer testing in that time and ongoing.

Part of what it sees as a compact with its customers is its in-house validation processes.

“We are on a bit of journey – we are very keen to lower out CO2 and do things right by the environment,” JLP Vehicle Engineering Manager Simon Gray says.

“We won’t take a manufacturer’s word for something – if they tell us ‘these tyres save you X and do Y’, we never take [its] word for it and always test it ourselves [and] independently.”

It was this testing that yielded a figure of 6 per cent less CO2 from one of its gas-powered Scania test vehicles pitted against a comparable Euro 6 diesel version.

The company was unable to go straight into gas power, so the path towards emissions reduction began with a fleet of 46 dual-fuel prime movers.

“That was our step into doing CNG-powered vehicles because the infrastructure in the UK was still in its infancy,” Gray explains.

“The beauty of that truck was, you’re not tied to the infrastructure – the CNG station goes down and you can still put diesel into it, our operation still works.

“It was like our stepping stone into gas.”

The company’s gas push also relates to ancillary costs, such as AdBlue and the robustness of related emissions-washing systems hardware, and wider socio-political concerns, such as quiet running in urban areas.

Cost advantages

To get past infrastructure issues and gain a settled gas price structure – as opposed to varied costs from independent suppliers of anywhere between £0.60 and £1 a kg – Waitrose has invested in a high-pressure grid-connected gas refuelling station.

Supplying bio-methane and based in a regional distribution centre at the northern England town of Leyland, it is run by UK firm CNG Fuels and is capable of refuelling up to 500 trucks a day.

This reportedly takes four minutes each vehicle.

As of late last year, there were 20 gas filling stations all told nationally, with another 20 planned.

The company’s mantra is to displace as much diesel as possible with bio-methane within its business case.

That case is still developing but it is informed by £0.47 per litre government fuel duty on diesel.

While government clean fuel incentives a solely for cars, the company is seeking access to emissions constrained areas in large cities.

Parts of London are accessible only to Euro 5 vehicles and by 2020 that will be to Euro 6 and its lobbying effort is focused on getting quiet gas truck access to such areas, particularly out of hours, as an incentive to invest in gas.

Gas duty per kW hour equivalent in the UK is a little less than half the diesel duty, fixed to 2024.

The business case will be undermined should it be lifted significantly after that, given the extra cost of gas trucks and especially infrastructure.

The UK government has indicated that should it lose too much revenue due a switch to gas, that duty must rise. By then, Waitrose is hoping competition in the gas-supply market will drive gas prices down.

Though UK government incentives are limited, Waitrose and Scania linked to tender for a Low Emission Freight and Logistics Trial (LEFLT) grant.

As it happened, the government announced that CNG Fuels gained £1.96 million of the £20 million on offer to “trial a significantly sized fleet of dedicated gas HGVs [heavy goods vehicles] to demonstrate their suitability for large scale roll-out”.

Fleet gains

Presently, Waitrose is getting the cost differential between diesel- and CNG-powered trucks after two years based on an annual average of 300,000 km a year and its trucks are held for around 6.5 to 7.5 years.

It amortises the whole of life cost to a zero resale value.

“Because we’re buying trucks with our own money, we are looking at the whole-life cost, so it pays for itself pretty early,” Gray says.

Another positive works for the whole company through the UK version of the ‘carbon tax’, the CO2 reduction targets for industry.

For some enterprises that find emissions reduction difficult, a way of keeping a lid on such outgoings has been to have a transport arm using of non-fossil fuels, such as bio-methane, that is carbon tax-free.

Two other reasons for Waitrose pushing on from dual fuel to full gas was lack of transparency for claims on how much gas was used and how drivers were behaving.

The gas component for tax purposes was predicated at 50-50 but, as gas then performed less well, drivers would switch and diesel running moved to 80-20.

Now, using advanced on-board telematics, such measures are very precise.

While the firm runs a range of rigids plus vans, the trial will stick mostly with prime movers as 70 per cent of the diesel burn comes from the heaviest 15 per cent of the fleet – a couple of rigids will get gas this year, however. 

The payback time on rigids would be twice, or four years, that of the prime movers.

Slippery trail

When Waitrose sought aerodynamic trailer savings, the stipulation was no loss in capacity while carrying a relatively light average weight of 25-26 tonnes.

The present ‘boat-tail’ trailer, now built for the company by Scottish-headquartered UK firm Gray & Adams, is the result.

Lower to the ground, so the prime mover shields it, with deep side wind-guards and with air space opened on parts of the rear and underside, refinements saw testing done independently at Cambridge University fuel-efficiency return of 7 per cent.

Standard UK trailers stand at 4.2 metres and standard Waitrose trailers had been 20cm lower but the new trailers are 3.8 metres.

It emerged in testing that about 35 per cent of trailer drag came from an area of low pressure at the back of the trailer.

The surprise for company transport managers was the amount of air resistance underneath.

This was made plain by an innovative water-tank testing.

Pushing a scale model through water, infused with millions of silver particles and milk, and filmed at high-speed using laser lighting, allows a supercomputer to analyse the flow behaviour frame by frame.

The solution was to push through as much air as possible by tapering the back at the top and sides and using aerodynamic axles.

The upsides taper in about 7cm starting 1.5m from the end.

The company does have issues with refrigeration units on their cold trailers, though, contributing and an overall 20 per cent of diesel usage.

It is testing seven vehicles with units powered by the truck engine power take-off and using a swash plate pump.

Telematics touch

As with other manufactures, Scania is strong on what telematics promises for operators, especially for driving efficiency, so it is interesting to hear what Waitrose makes of it.

The JLP’s and its grocer’s telematics usage began in 2007-8, starting with the heavy fleet that burns the most fuel.

The group managed a 5 per cent fuel bill reduction in the first year put down directly to the focus on driver behaviour.

Now all vehicles of 3.5 tonne and above have it.

Read the full feature in the February edition of ATN.


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