Electric trucks have failed to deliver, says M&S

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain Biofuel

‘Green’ transport options such as electric vans, hybrid trucks and fuel cells have so far failed to deliver significant efficiency benefits, according to supply chain bosses at Marks & Spencer.

The greatest supply chain efficiencies had been achieved via lower-tech approaches such as training drivers, stepping up backhauling (picking up food from suppliers on the way back from making store deliveries), improving scheduling and making lorries more aerodynamic, logistics head Keith Mahoney has revealed.

Speaking at the Food and Drink Logistics show in Birmingham last month, Mahoney said: “We’ve done extensive trials with an electric vehicle for store deliveries in London, but we found it was dangerous on motorways; it was decelerating when we were trying to get onto the M1. We are about to trial a new version but it won’t be ‘the answer’ for our entire fleet.”

Meanwhile, hybrid trucks, which run on diesel and electricity, did not (yet) appear to offer a better solution, he said: “Hybrids are very complex and heavy so the payload is restricted, so you’d have to run two hybrids for one diesel vehicle. Things are never as simple as people think when you are looking at sustainability issues.”

First generation biofuels are ‘not sustainable’

As for alternative fuels, it was now quite clear that ‘first generation’ biofuels derived from food crops such as soy, maize, sugar cane and palm oil, were not sustainable, he added: “We won’t go any further with this until someone convinces us that there is a sustainable source of biofuel in sufficient volumes. There are lots of people out there recycling chip fat and so on, but that’s no good if you’re running 600 trucks.”

He added: “We’re also looking at dual fuel – methane from waste processing and diesel to power vehicles, plus cells in forklift trucks, but again, this is not ‘the answer’. We spoke to Transport for London about its fuel cell powered bus but understand it’s not viable at the moment, so all this is very much a learning curve.”

He added: “The biggest returns in terms of efficiency are coming from driver behaviour and training.”

Packaging reduction

As for packaging reduction, he said, “One thing that’s interesting is that we’re seeing a trend for suppliers to have more bulk movements of things such as fruit with more packaging taking place in end markets rather than at source, which is good. But where the focus is excessively on reducing end product packaging [packaging of individual items] rather than looking at the whole supply chain, product can get damaged during transit and you end up wasting even more.”

As for utilities in general, sub metering had “really helped us work out exactly what we were using​”, he said. “We were surprised that our energy consumption for lighting was as much as our consumption on refrigeration, where we were already very efficient. With water, we discovered leaks that neither we nor our water supplier knew about and we managed to save 30% in year one just by addressing that​.”

He added: “We’ve trialled energy management systems, solar panels and combined heat and power, but the biggest savings came from better use of what we’d already got​.” In terms of energy efficiency equipment, he said, "sometimes it’s better to wait until the life of what you’ve got reaches its natural end. You must look at embedded carbon when you make your calculations, or you could actually be increasing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing everything with energy efficient kit.”

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