Minister visits Reading Buses
Gas station formally launched
In the presence of stakeholders and guests from across the industry, Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer, has officially launched Reading Buses’ £1m gas station. The project, partly funded by a one off Gas Bus Infrastructure Support Grant from the DfT, supports Reading Buses’ current fleet of 34 Scania ADL gas buses and is scalable for future growth. This will now occur in the short term following the Minister’s announcement at the event of the allocation of funding from the £5m Clean Vehicle Technology Fund (CVTF). More details of the funding awards can be found on our news pages but for Reading, £368,750 has been allocated to the Borough Council to convert taxis to dual fuel diesel/gas operation. Grants will be made to individual taxi operators to convert their vehicles that will then use Reading Buses’ gas station to refuel during the day. All the CVTF projects will support the Minister’s target of making the UK the leading edge country for green transport in Europe.
For Reading Buses CEO, James Freeman, the launch was the culmination of the gas bus project and his seven year tenure of the post, which he vacates at the end of September to take up a Director’s role with First. As a measure of his achievements, Baroness Kramer made reference in her address to Reading Buses being proportionately the greenest across the country and a template for other companies. In addition to the 34 gas buses, Reading Buses operates 31 ADL Enviro400H hybrid double deckers and will take delivery of 24 Euro6 double deckers to the latest ADL Enviro400 design in the coming months.
Councillor Tony Page, Deputy Leader of Reading Borough Council, spoke of the Borough’s pride in owning Reading Buses and the continuum of initiatives that the company continues to put forward, understanding that not all would be successful such as the oil seed rape fuel trial which left the town centre streets smelling like a fish and chip shop.
Gas buses and the Gas Vehicle Alliance
Tony Griffith gave a short presentation on the work of the Gas Vehicle Alliance indicating that their current gas production facility in West Sussex has the capability to inject gas into the UK gas network equivalent to fuelling 500 buses per day and the company had plans for three more sites. The facility digests manure and supermarket food waste to deliver natural gas that is cleaned up to meet the requirements of the UK gas network and used locally to balance the gas drawn off at bus depot facilities. The remaining solid is turned into fertiliser pellets which can be spread across fields without the smell associated with slurry spraying. The process is essentially carbon neutral as the feedstock would otherwise naturally decay and release methane to the atmosphere, increasing global warming.
Tony’s presentation was followed by two key announcements from Alan Martin, Manager Special Projects – Fleet Sales at Scania. Firstly, Scania’s gas engine was now available to Euro6 standard and, possibly of even greater significance, that development work was being undertaken with its bodybuilding partners on a double decker gas bus.
James Freeman concluded the presentation emphasising the benefits that the low emission gas bus fleet is bringing, ‘it may not be 100% emission free at point of delivery but it is here now and it works very well, the gas buses are the most reliable in the fleet by a considerable margin’. James showed figures indicating they averaged 220 miles between breakdowns compared with 144 miles for comparable Euro4 diesel vehicles, in addition the gas buses showed half the direct operating cost per mile.
The gas station
The gas station at Reading Buses’ Great Knollys Street depot occupies two distinct areas, a gas receipt, compression and storage facility in one corner of the site and the vehicle filling points themselves which have been integrated into the existing washing and fuelling lanes.
Gas is received from the low pressure distribution network, cleaned to remove any hydrocarbon or dust deposits that it may have entrained during its passage through the network, then compressed to 250bar to fill the storage vessels. It is then fed to the filling points situated on each of the three existing fuelling lanes. A sealed connection is made to each vehicle in turn and the pressure differential allows the vehicle’s tanks to be filled to 200bar in a comparable time to diesel vehicles so there is no impact on the evening run in schedule.
Two compressor streams have been installed with sufficient storage vessel capacity to meet the evening run in schedule for the current 34 gas vehicle fleet. The system is scalable through both the installation of additional storage vessels, providing more capacity during the evening run in and the use of the fuelling facilities at off peak times as is planned for the taxi operators. Additional compression will not be needed as these are currently only required to operate from the start of the evening run in to around 01.00.
The gas station was designed by the Gas Vehicle Alliance, construction and installation being undertaken by the UK operation of Finnish engineering company Wartsila, signed off by Scotia Gas Networks. Key challenges which delayed the site’s commissioning were the connection to the existing gas network that required additional capacity installed upstream and the provision of a suitable electricity supply to drive the compressors. Gas fuel was brought in by road tanker until the station was commissioned in March 2014.
Safety has been considered at every stage with modifications made to the depot roof to handle any leakage during maintenance. Side benefits include the lack of fuel spillage to produce a slip hazard during refuelling operations and a reduction in diesel tanker operations to and from the depot.
Gas bus development in the UK has been slower than across much of Europe, the first modern era trials in the 1990s stalling as a result of taxation regimes and probably an understanding of the quality of gas required. Both these issues have been addressed and the Reading Buses operation shows that gas is a solution for now where fleet sizes are above a level to justify the cost of the gas station. Growth in the use of the Reading Buses gas station could have been restricted by the fleet’s limited requirement for more single deck vehicles, however the announcement from Scania and the CVTF funding for taxis both present opportunities for CEO designate, Martijn Gilbert, to build on James Freeman’s contribution to the success of Reading Buses.