Going green with commercial sweeping machines

By Jeff Winke

When it comes to green environmental practices and processes, commercial sweepers, as a market segment lead the way in innovation. A sustainable business, or a green business, is an enterprise that has minimal negative impact, or potentially a positive effect, on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy. A business practice that is economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally friendly is usually regarded as being sustainable.

There appears to be two types of “green” sweepers. Those using alternative fuels and hybrid/electric sweepers.

“Street sweepers are going green in a big way,” stated Matt Starnes product marketing manager, Bucher Municipal North America Inc., Mooresville, North Carolina. “Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was the first major push to power street sweepers into green operation. After several false starts over the decades, electric is finally making a significant commitment to providing an alternative to fossil fuels as well. With recent infrastructure investments by governments and the wide-scale adoption by automobile manufacturers and even heavy construction equipment, electric has finally arrived. Another green technology not in sweepers yet but a possibility in the near future is hydrogen fuel cell (big advantage is less weight than batteries used for electric).”

Electric hybrids are emerging as a strong option for commercial sweepers.

“The industry is progressing towards an electric future. Certain factors are shaping the timing for us,” stated Tim Letts, Product Manager, Elgin Sweeper Company, Elgin, Illinois. “We offer two hybrid models designed to help our customers move towards a green future while delivering uncompromised performance. We have a machine with a high-capacity battery that can be recharged while driving or when plugged into an electrical outlet. Our hybrids can complete a full day’s shift and also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. Savings will vary based on a number of variables including routes, debris, or operator, but in some initial studies our hybrids have seen reductions of fuel and emissions of approximately 25% to 30%.”

Letts continued, “Outside of a few purpose-built street sweepers our sweepers are mounted on truck chassis and to a certain extent the industry is reliant on the chassis manufactures for an electric chassis. Unfortunately for our industry, street sweepers are mounted on a chassis size that is not as high volume, which means the electric chassis are not yet readily available. Class 5, 6 and 8 truck chassis are much more in demand, and therefore have received more R&D funding at the chassis manufacture to become electrified. With that said, we anticipate 2023 and 2024 will be exciting times in the sweeper industry.”

There has also been an industry shift in the engine being used in sweeper machines. Sweepers are moving from twin engines to single engine operation. It is a matter of recognizing that the future of the industry lies in alternative fuel solutions with the increasing focus on zero emissions. There are many believing that there has never been a more important time than now to make the switch to single-engine machine to help reduce emissions and costs immediately.

“It may seem like small steps, but the largest sweepers, the truck-mounted sweepers (TMS) first step to being greener is moving from twin engines to single engines,” Starnes said. “Single engine sweepers use one engine to power both the chassis and the sweeper functions, as opposed to the twin or pony motor approach, which has one engine for the chassis and one engine to power the sweeper functions. Single engines provide minimal to no loss of power thanks to improved engine design. Other efficiencies are improvements in pure vacuum air technology. Improvements in the last two years have resulted in 30% reduction in fuel consumption, 40% increased pick-up performance, and even 2dB reduction in noise pollution.”

The question to ask is what green practices and processes can a sweeping contractor follow to improve its green status?

“To make operations greener, contractors have to commit to sweeping and using best practices to prevent pollutants from entering water runoff, and also they should choose sweepers that help reduce emissions,” Letts said.

Starnes offered some elemental advice: “An easy step is preventative maintenance. The simple things such as changing air and fuel filters according to manufacturer instructions can save fuel and cut down on air pollution. Cleaning the debris body or hopper and dumping in only authorized dumping locations contributes to less pollution in our fresh water supplies. Another step anyone can take with fossil fuel consuming sweepers is to not idle unless necessary, this helps reduce air pollution and saves fuel as well. “

The commercial sweeping contractor has options available to run a greener, sustainable business operation that will be kinder to the environment and save money to boot.

Jeff Winke is a business and construction writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He can be reached through jeff_winke@yahoo.com