Angus Lindsay asks where we have to turn for greener vehicles as major European cities move closer to banning diesel

With the use of diesel and even the internal combustion engine under threat in many major cities across Europe, Berlin is looking at a complete ban by 2030. With changes to the London congestion zone brought forward, where do we go next? Reducing diesel use is all well and good and will undoubtedly improve air quality, but what are our options? Electric, hybrid, LPG, CNG, and Hydrogen are all now available in cars, buses and heavy trucks, with the supporting infrastructure getting better by the day, but what of the 3500kg workhorse that is the backbone of our industry?

Diesel has been the standard in commercial vehicles for several years, with manufacturers spending vast amounts to give us clean Euro 6 engines. Now these too face being banned from our cities. There used to be petrol options for these vehicles but these are now a distant memory, no longer giving us the ability to convert to LPG. So what else? With more and more hybrid cars on the market, why not in commercials? Yes they’ll be expensive and there will be an effect on payload, but it could make sense for our industry.

On the face of it, electric vehicles would seem to be the ultimate in low emission power, but consider where the electricity comes from; power station, wind turbine or solar panels – how green are they exactly? The electric vehicles currently on the market are ideal for a couple of people moving small amounts of equipment, but larger load carrying variants are few and far between, extremely expensive, and lacking in payload. Next year we expect to see Renault and Volkswagen launch fully electric panel vans with a range of up to 150 miles; ideal for delivering parcels but not much use for the tree gang towing a chipper – where do the chippings go? Come to think of it, will the diesel engine in the chipper still be allowed?

Zero emissions vehicle logo2

What of the other diesel powered equipment we use? Will this, too, eventually fall foul of the ban? There’s no problem with power tools as there are plenty of options available, but we can hardly cut parks and playing fields with pedestrian electric mowers! And what of heavier landscaping operations? There are now electric road sweepers, earth movers, and ride-on mowers on the market, so what’s the problem? As cities strive for cleaner environments they are also struggling with budget cuts, and cleaner technology comes at a price; for instance, there is no way that an electric mower will run for eight hours on a low frequency verge mowing regime. Again, LPG used to be an option but seems to have fallen out of favour in the UK, though it is gaining in popularity in the US where, ironically, both petrol and diesel are considerably cheaper. I have talked before about hybrid power units and learning from other industries; there would seem to be a glimmer of light from the dark recesses of several manufacturer’s development workshops, so watch this space.

I’m all for reducing pollution and improving our environment, but for it to work effectively there has to be a more joined up thinking between all stakeholders, otherwise things will never move forward. As an industry we are the keepers of our cities’ green lungs and we should take the lead in this revolution by educating staff, clients, the public, and the politicians in how to get the best from our green spaces – and it’s not just about the vehicles and  machines. Cutting regimes, water conservation, sympathetic landscaping, sensible tree planting and tree management all play their part, so let’s get on with it!

Angus’s blog article is also published in the February 2017 issue of Pro Landscaper magazine.