Paving the way for the world’s most silent refuse truck

Today, nearly all heavy and medium trucks and machinery run on diesel. To avoid the worst-case climate scenarios, the global vehicle fleet – including commercial vehicles, trucks and machinery – needs to be powered with carbon neutral alternatives in the future. Electric vehicles have been the foremost alternative for diesel in heavy traffic for some time, and despite the rivals, the role of electrification will continue to be strong.

At Smart Otaniemi, the first project related to the electric heavy vehicles has been ongoing since 2019. This pilot project, however, covers much more than just a trial of a new electric vehicle – silent and emission free refuse collection is a step towards better city environment. Reducing the emissions and noise has direct impacts on life quality in cities.

Shifting situations

When the Smart Otaniemi pilot on world’s most silent refuse collection started, it was estimated that by 2021 the trial would be on full speed: electric truck equipped with an electric driven refuse collector would be serving in central Helsinki and utilizing a fast charging station in the city.  Now it seems that the pilot was a bit ahead of its time.

The signs in 2019 were already indicating that the changes in the way commercial vehicles are powered could be rapid. In practice, finding an electric truck chassis that would fit to waste collection use turned out to be difficult. Although many truck manufacturers were already marketing their electric drivetrain options, in reality they were only available for selected pilot projects. The marketed price levels of electric trucks were also some way off from actual sale prices, which caused further delays to secure additional funding.

After all the setbacks and delays, a suitable chassis was found in 2020, and will be delivered during the summer of 2021, after which the installation of the refuse collector can proceed. Based on current estimates on the total cost of the ownership, electric commercial vehicles and trucks can be on par with diesels in relatively near term, and manufacturers are already sharing news about full order books. In practice, the offering is already considerably different than it was two years ago.

Fully electric waste collection is a step towards higher life quality

Electrifying the truck and the refuse collector will reduce emissions and some of the noise, but collection work itself creates noise as well: pulling the refuse containers on uneven pavements, emptying the container into the refuse collector and packing the load tight into the collector container.

While chasing the chassis has taken its time, the pilot group has been able to do tests and research related to the current noise level. In the tests the noise emanating from both the vehicle and the collection process has been measured and the collection process has been found to generate a significant share of the total noise.

Piloting is a game of uncertainties

The pilot of a fully electric waste collection truck has proved that creating innovative solutions based on existing technologies can be trickier than one would imagine, but pilot projects always include a fair amount of uncertainty.

Testing reduces the risk related to adopting new innovations, but it might, and should, also reveal unexpected problems. Many times it is the piloting that eventually points out the weaknesses hidden in the process or product, and that makes piloting a crucially important element when bringing new products and services to the market. The silent refuse truck pilot might not be in its target schedule, but it sure is paving the way for the environment friendly solutions that will increase the life quality in cities in the long-term.


Text: Tytti Nikunen, VTT