Finnish company pitches renewable diesel for Wellington’s bus fleet

Finnish company Neste wants to enter the New Zealand market and fuel Wellington’s buses with its renewable diesel.

Currently, emissions from buses account for about a third of Greater Wellington Regional Council’s (GWRC) carbon footprint.

There was an uproar when Wellington City’s iconic trolley buses were decommissioned in 2017 after the council deemed the $50 million cost for upgrading and maintaining the overhead wire network too expensive.

The current council wants to replace or convert the 320 buses in its existing fleet to electric power by 2030, except for about 48 of them for emergencies or occasional high-volume service.

The council also plans to purchase an additional 169 new electric buses to address capacity increases.

Neste spokesperson Phil Moore will make a submission to GWRC today that MY Renewable Diesel should be used for the existing fleet as an interim measure.

This could decrease emissions by up to 90 per cent.

The biofuel is chemically identical to fossil diesel and can be used as a complete replacement without the need for new engines and increased maintenance.

It’s made from waste animal and vegetable fats.

Moore said in a written version of the submission on the council’s Long Term Plan that the company supported the ambition to transition Wellington’s public transport fleet to renewable power.

“However, it will be at least a decade until the bus fleet is fully transitioned to electric, and longer for the trains to move to electric or hydrogen, meaning large volumes of emissions will continue for years to come.”

Moore said the council should amend its plan to reference the use of biofuels to bridge the gap until the public transport fleet is fully electrified.

Meanwhile Transdev, which operates Mana Newlands Coach Services in Wellington, has committed to trial a new hydrogen fuel technology in its existing diesel bus fleet.

Transdev New Zealand managing director Greg Pollock said units would be fitted to buses to determine the level of reduced fuel consumption and emissions in “Wellington conditions”.

Independent testing of the HYDI Hydrogen fuel system at the University of South Australia has shown an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

GWRC chairman Daran Ponter said the council was focused on the end point of achieving a carbon-free fleet and the transition to that was also very important.

“Many Wellingtonians remind us of the dirty diesel buses which continue to exist on our roads and will for some time to come. So this type of technology and others is welcome and we will have to deliberate in the coming weeks at the regional council if and how we can introduce it.”

Ponter said effectiveness, supply chains, and cost would be important issues to consider with operators.

There are currently ten electric double decker buses in service.

An additional 98 electric buses are due in July, 31 of which will be double decker buses made in Tauranga.

Tranzit Group transport and operations director Keven Snelgrove said electric buses were the way of the future, but different technologies needed to be considered on the way.

“The elephant in the room is always the cost but at the end of the day anyone who’s serious about climate change will look at all sorts of technologies.”

GWRC Climate Committee chairman Thomas Nash said bridging technologies would be useful for the transition from “polluting diesel to zero emissions”.

“We should be exploring every technological opportunity that we have to get our emissions down in the short term because it will take some time to replace the existing diesel engines that we have in our public transport fleet.

“We have to take every opportunity to reduce emissions. We’ve got no time to lose.”

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