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Yorkshire Ambulance Service: thinking outside the box

Case study by the Energy Saving Trust


Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust (YAS) respond to the urgent care needs of over five million people, covering an area of 5,000 square miles with a fleet of 1,200 vehicles including around 400 ambulances.


We spoke with their Environmental and Sustainability Manager, Alexis Percival, to understand their plans to cut emissions and the challenges they face.  


What was the challenge?

In 2018, YAS had Euro V diesel vehicles and there were no ultra-low-emission vehicles on the market that met their requirements – 200 miles minimum range for a frontline ambulance and 150 miles minimum for a Patient Transport Service (PTS) vehicle.


To reduce their emissions, innovative thinking and investment was required.


What vehicles do they have now?

After first developing a 10-year strategy which identified the ‘easiest wins’, as of 2020, they have two electric–hydrogen hybrid vans, one hydrogen-diesel van, four electric vans, five electric pool cars and one plug-in hybrid car.

Tell me more about their hydrogen hybrids

Through Office for Low Emission Vehicle (OLEV) funding, YAS procured two Renault Kangoo ZE vans that had had their range extended by adding hydrogen tanks, doubling the electric vehicle range to 200 miles. YAS use a hydrogen refuelling station, which generates carbon-neutral hydrogen from wind power. These conversions were carried out by Arcola Symbio.


Using Innovate UK funding, they retrofitted a PTS Peugeot Boxer van to run on hydrogen mixed with diesel, using unique H2ICED® technology from specialist conversion company ULEMCo. Now about 35-45% of the vehicle’s energy use is fuelled by hydrogen, not diesel, dramatically reducing carbon emissions and NOx.


What are the emissions savings?

The hydrogen-electric hybrid vans each save four tonnes of CO2 per year. The PTS vehicle will save approximately 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. The electric vans will save around three tonnes of CO2 per year. Combined that’s enough CO2e to fill Big Ben.


What about the ambulances?

Ambulances are very challenging to electrify due to their high range and payload requirements.


Working with London Ambulance Service, ULEMCo and other partners, YAS is assisting with the work to build the UK’s first functional operational zero-emission ambulance, the ’ZERRO’ (Zero Emission Rapid Response Operational ambulance), after securing £2.5 million from Innovate UK. Fully loaded and using electricity alone, it had a 40 to 60-mile range. With hydrogen tanks, the range will be a more viable 390 miles and a prototype should be on the road by the end of 2020.

What else have they tested?

In 2016, YAS installed solar panels on the roofs of 109 new frontline diesel ambulances, through Department for Transport's Clean Vehicle Technology Fund. The solar panels power the ambulance’s auxiliary electrical equipment and prevent vehicle batteries from going flat whilst stationary, waiting for the next call. This eliminates emissions from idling (having the engine running whilst stationary).


What has been the challenge with electric vehicles?

Charging infrastructure has proved challenging. YAS stations lack electricity grid capacity for more than two to four chargepoints. Ideally, YAS would like to charge up to 60 vehicles per location. To provide a resilient service, the stations need enough fuel for 20 days so battery storage and solar panels will be crucial in the future. YAS is also keeping an eye on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-grid technologies.


What’s next?

Developing charging infrastructure is one priority. YAS is looking at electric charge points for staff use and working with hospitals and care homes to find locations for chargepoints so their vehicles can be topped-up mid-shift. This will dynamically change the way in which electric vehicles can be used within the YAS fleet. Downtime for recharging will become a critical part of a zero-emission fleet. If downtime can become a normal part of operations it will eliminate the need to return to base for recharging.


What is Alexis’ top tip for switching to an ultra-low emission fleet?

“Start by understanding how your fleet operates and your infrastructure constraints. You need to understand the actual daily use of your vehicles through telematics and this research will identify the vehicles that can be easily converted to electric, which may be more than you’d expect, before tackling the more challenging vehicles.”


Making the commitment

YAS is aiming for a 75% ultra-low-emission and 25% zero emission fleet by 2025. They have signed up to the Clean Van Commitment and pledge to reduce their emissions for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes to zero by 2028. They are aiming to phase out diesel completely by 2040. There are many challenges to overcome on the journey. The harder to treat vehicles over 3.5 tonnes will require innovation, infrastructure and a change in practise in order to reduce emissions.