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U.K. retailer John Lewis to use cow manure to power its delivery fleets

John Lewis & Partners, the U.K.-based chain of department stores, has announced that hundreds of its delivery trucks will switch to using biomethane as fuel by 2021, which is in line with the retailer’s pledge to power its entire delivery fleet with biomethane by 2028. 

A portion of the company’s fleet already runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). However, the push towards biomethane is a part of its overarching strategy to reduce its carbon footprint by progressively inching towards low carbon fuel. A complete transition to biomethane would result in John Lewis reducing its fleet emissions by 80% and save over 49,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. 

The biomethane that will power the John Lewis fleet will come from cow manure. The manure will be processed through biogas plants to extract methane gas. The process of converting cow manure into biogas involves anaerobic bacteria that digests the manure to release biogas over a period of time. 

However, what is exciting about biomethane is the abundant possibilities of producing it. Prior to its decision to use biomethane to fuel a large percentage of its fleet, John Lewis has been running 80 delivery vans on biomethane produced from food waste for quite a while now. The company also plans to step up the number of vans powered by food waste-based biomethane to 200 within the next 18 months, before eventually moving to cow manure-based biomethane. 

Biomethane is also a good substitute for electrification, which has not really taken off in the heavy-duty vehicle (HGV) segment that contributes 4.2% of the annual U.K. carbon emissions. Studies have found that swapping diesel vehicles with biogas vehicles will reduce carbon emissions by 85%. 

Extracting methane from cow manure saves the environment, because in the absence of a biogas plant, the cow manure emits methane into the atmosphere as it succumbs to bacteria. Methane is incredibly damaging to the ozone layer, as it is a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than CO2

For its biofuel needs, John Lewis will be partnering with CNG Fuels, a U.K.-based supplier of renewable biomethane. “We want to help decarbonise freight transport and enable fleet operators to meet Net Zero targets now, supporting the U.K.’s climate targets,” said Philip Fjeld, the CEO of CNG Fuels. “Renewable biomethane sourced from manure is currently the best low-carbon solution for HGVs, but we want to be ready to support our customers when other technologies are commercially viable for freight transport.”

There has been a widespread call within the U.K. to limit diesel-powered vehicle miles as cities like London suffer from excessive air pollution. London created low emission zones to charge diesel vehicles for driving through neighbourhoods with fragile air quality. In 2002, the U.K. government established the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) that advocates for the reduction of carbon emissions in road transport and promoting low carbon vehicles and fuels. 

As expected, the John Lewis announcement brought in cheers from LowCVP. “With all the focus on electrification, the low carbon combustion fuels might be overlooked. But it is vital to remember that Net Zero can be delivered in a number of ways,” said Andy Eastman, managing director of LowCVP. “The LowCVP welcome genuinely zero or even negative carbon solutions which exist here and now and we must accelerate the uptake of these fuel solutions.”