A new, innovative, player has entered the GSE world – UK-based zero-emissions vehicle manufacturer Electra Commercial Vehicles offers bespoke, specialist electric vehicle solutions for airport applications
Electra Commercial Vehicles was established in 2017 in Blackburn, England, by entrepreneur Sid Sadique. Sadique, already the owner of a number of companies across the country that are involved in the truck dealership and commercial vehicle rental businesses, decided to move into the airport market, confident that his expertise and contacts in the truck dealership and rental sector would be a real benefit for trucked GSE applications.
Electra specialises in building electric commercial vehicles by acquiring chassis without engines and transmissions, called gliders. It converts these to fully electric vehicles at its Lancashire factory and equips them with battery-powered motors ideal for airport applications.
Sadique has established strong relations with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Mercedes-Benz, Iveco and Isuzu that offer ready access to glider chassis ranging from 7.5 to 44 tonnes gross vehicle weight (GVW). Electra installs purpose-built battery-powered drive systems above the rear axle of the vehicles for GSE buyers looking to transition to electric propulsion, with all the environmental – and financial, Electra would say – benefits that that brings.
In fact, Electra has special arrangements with the OEMs to build these glider chassis to the customer’s specifications, without any internal combustion engines (ICE). Once converted and fitted with a battery power pack, the vehicles can then be delivered to a client’s chosen GSE body builder with a bespoke configuration, saving them conversion costs. All Electra trucks are supplied with both OEM factory and electric warranties.
Electra is converting vehicles according to customer requirements, unlike the big truck OEMs that typically offer one (or maybe no) electric variants usually designed for large hauliers operating over long distances daily at relatively high speeds (typically 56mph in the UK, for example).
Big truck OEMs are not particularly interested in producing models that specifically target the niche airport-based market (leaving that up to local dealerships), whether they be trucks powered by electricity or diesel – thus seemingly leaving the field clear for a bespoke truck builder such as Electra to focus purely on zero-emission solutions.
Electra offers customers – whether airport GSE operators or GSE body builders – variants suited to their specific applications. For example, the vehicles can have smaller battery packs than standard electric-powered road haulage trucks, airport vehicles typically neither travelling at those high speeds nor being required to operate over long distances or timeframes without a recharge.
Wheelbases can be modified, while hydraulic pump sizes powered by electric power take-offs (PTOs) and the positioning of components to match a vehicle’s bodywork can also be customised.
Battery packs can be of 70kWH, 140kWH, 210kWH, 280kWH or 315kWH variants, with 150kW DC fast charge capability. They can be set for 56mph top speed operations or limited to suit airport speed limits, as appropriate.
It is early days yet in the airport sector, but Electra has already developed different vehicle variants for two GSE customers. The first is for dnata, which asked Electra to develop an electric catering loader in 2020. Electra used a Cartwright GSE box and scissor chassis for its base vehicle design, and the unit is now ready as a demonstrator.
The second has been developed for on-airport refuelling specialist Titan Aviation, which requested a refueller based on an Electra design. That vehicle has now been delivered to an Irish airport, which benefitted from a European Union (EU) subsidy to cover most of its purchase cost.
‘The ultimate clean vehicle technology’
Ben Smith, managing director at Electra Commercial Vehicles, notes that the company creates “fully electric commercial vehicles for a worldwide market with either left-hand or right-hand drive for a cleaner airport operation future”.
He continues: “Electra provides the ultimate clean vehicle technology combined with an OEM chassis suited to GSE’s exact operations, supported by a high-quality maintenance package and a contract hire solution if required by the customer.”
All Electra trucks are fully approved for on-road usage. At the same time, an in-house designed telemetry system indicates how much diesel the operator saves by using electric power rather than by expending fuel gallons per mile. This presents an easy reporting tool for the return on investment for the GSE operator. The system also displays the volume of harmful emissions that has been saved by the operator favouring electric battery use over a diesel ICE.
Plus, this same telemetry stores data collected on the routes taken by the vehicle, helping the operator to optimise the set-up and use of the vehicle. Meanwhile, a modified dashboard panel shows the vehicle’s battery charge state in the truck cabin.
Hydrogen fuel cell technology
Electra Commercial Vehicles has huge ambitions for meeting the needs of the airport/aviation market and is developing hydrogen fuel cells as a power source for on-airport vehicles. It has already built the UK’s first zero-emission refrigerated hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV).
The Electra eCargo FCEV has been in successful operation with the supermarket Sainsbury’s in the Tees Valley and beyond area of northern England as part of the ‘Road to Hydrogen’ – a UK-Government-funded project to advance hydrogen transport in the country. It focuses on helping the UK solve challenges around zero-emission road freight linked to the Teesside Multi-Modal Transport Hydrogen Hub.
Smith observes: “Electra is the only manufacturer in the UK building electric and fuel cell battery electric vehicles as a proven and working concept.” He notes that, together with Element 2, which has supplied the hydrogen for the project and which is building a national network of hydrogen refuelling stations: “What we have achieved together gives GSE operators the confidence to switch to hydrogen sooner rather than later.”
The 19-tonne hydrogen-powered eCargo truck has driven over 600km in an operational configuration on a single charge, and is the first of its kind. Fitted with an HY45 fuel cell, the Electra eCargo FCEV can operate for 9-10 hours on the hydrogen storage system’s reserve, sufficient to suit intensive ramp operations, following which it can return to base for a quick refill of hydrogen so that operators can double-shift it in operations without a lengthy recharge.
“We are very excited for people to see our fully hydrogen-powered temperature-controlled FCEV in the UK,” enthuses Smith. “It is an example of genuine innovation that will help operators transition to authentic zero-emission transport and help form a future supply chain for hydrogen aircraft refuelling.”
Hydrogen fuel cells would not be suitable for all GSE applications, and the appropriate refilling infrastructure would need to be available either on-airport or close by. But, says Smith: “Hydrogen certainly does have potential applications for large, ramp-based vehicles with high-duty cycles. For example, the technology is ideal for zero-emission aircraft de-icers where the excess heat generated by the fuel cell could be repurposed to keep de-icing fluid hot during extensive winter de-icing.
“However, our strategic partnership with Element 2 can ensure suitable hydrogen infrastructure at nearly any site, including at airports,” he concludes.