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Source: Autocar

First ride: Lunaz Upcycled Electric Vehicle bin lorry

March 19th, 2023

4.LunazUEVontheroadoutsideenlargedfactory (1) New UEV is the British firm's latest conversion project, but how successful can it be?

Sell it to me in a sentence...

The Lunaz Upcycled Electric Vehicle (UEV) is a converted zero-emission bin lorry from a firm best known until now for converting ultra-posh Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Jaguars to electric power.

From Bentleys to bins? Come on, you're talking rubbish now...

Rubbish? Quite the opposite: we're all being encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle - and the Lunaz UEV applies those 'three Rs' to the machines that picks up your empties.

At the moment, collecting rubbish and recycling is dirty and smelly work - and not just because it involves a load of, well, rubbish. Most bin lorries in use today are big, heavy, diesel-powered vehicles, which are good for providing the power to pick up your leftovers but create problems of their own.

They're quite loud for one thing, as you might well know if your bins are collected early. But, more significantly, they're not great when it comes to emissions. Essentially, the use case of a bin lorry is really not suited to diesel powertrains: they make slow journeys through often in dense residential areas, with frequent stops and starts.

Studies have shown that idling vehicles produce more emissions than when a vehicle is moving - and those emissions are more likely to stay in that area. And it doesn't help that the lifts on most bin lorries are actually powered by their Diesel engines, burning extra fuel and creating further emissions.

Change is needed, and there is increasing national and local government emphasis on reducing emissions - look at the rising number of Clean Air Zones, or the UK government's planned ban on the sale of all non zero-emission cars and vans from 2035 onwards.

As a result, many councils and waste firm operators have pledged to switch to zero-emission machines in the coming years - including electric bin lorries. There are some new ones coming to the market: for example, the Mercedes Econic is a particularly popular bin lorry in Europe, and the firm now offers an eEconic (and yes, the double e in its title makes us wince a bit too).

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But new electric vehicles have problems of their own: manufacturing a bin lorry produces a significant amount of emissions in itself. So Lunaz's idea is to take an existing vehicle and fit an electric powertrains, while also giving it a thorough makeover.

"If you replace the current fleet you just 'carbon postbox' existing vehicles to other countries, so you don't solve the problem," says company founder David Lorenz. "You have to break the pattern, by taking existing vehicles and upcycling them to electric -or else you just end up with more vehicles on the road."

So the Lunaz UEV is a diesel bin lorry converted to electric power then?

That's essentially right, although Lunaz doesn't like to use the terms 'conversion' or 'repowered'. It uses the term upcycling - and the difference is more than just some terminology pedantry. In fact, it's probably best explained by returning to those Rolls-Royce and Bentleys we mentioned earlier.

Lunaz founded in 2018 by entrepreneur Lorenz and engineer Jon Hilton, with an initial focus on Lunaz Design. That's the classic car upcycling arm, which is based in a large unit at Silverstone Business Park, a few hundred metres from the home of the British Grand Prix.

The division works on a commission basis, and its clients include high-end hotels, classic car fans and some ex-footballer called David Beckham, who was so impressed he invested in the company.

Lunaz develops its own electric motors and powertrains in-house, and also assembles its own battery packs. That means each powertrain can be developed specifically for the vehicle its going in. But the operation doesn't just whip out the old petrol engine and stick in an e-motor. There's as much emphasis on restoration and redevelopment.

Most clients come to Lunaz with a request for a particular type of car, which the firm then goes out and sources. The firm actively steers away from pristine concours cars, instead seeking out 'barn find' project cars that need some work.

Each machine is driven, tested and evaluated before being striped right back to the shell, so that it can be cleaned and restored, patching up any bodywork issues and strengthening and replacing every part. The new e-powertrain is tuned to match the car's original performance traits.

At the same time, Lunaz's design and trim team work with clients to spec up the interior of each car, sourcing materials that are true to the ethos of the original but are fresher and sustainable. Extra features can also be added, ranging from touchscreens and USB ports to a custom-built cigar humidor.

Unlke some EV conversion firms, the amount of work that goes in means this is not a reversible process: unless a client specifically requests it, the old combustion engine is carefully taken to bits and recycled. But the process is so involved that the vehicles couldn't be reverted back to petrol power anyway. Still, the idea is that they emerge from the Lunaz workshop -after close to two years, in some cases - looking better than they did when new, and now fully emission-free.

Again... this is related to bin lorries how?

Because that whole process - albeit in a somewhat larger mass-market production process -is essentially what Lunaz has now started to do to old diesel bin lorries. Although you can't actually get a cigar humidor in a Lunaz bin lorry. Well, in theory you could, but it's not expected to be a popular request from local councils.

The Lunaz Applied Technologies division was created in 2021, with a focus on converting industrial vehicles to electric power. The initial focus in on a specific line of bin lorries, but the plan is to eventually offer conversions for a wide range of vehicle types from a wide range of manufacturers.

Initially, the two Lunaz divisions shared space in a single unit at Silverstone Business Park, but the Applied Technologies division has now moved to a massive new 250,000 square foot facility a few hundred metres away.

The site had only just opened when Move Electric visited, and even though it featured several long lines of bin lorries being upcycled there was still masses of space. The plan is that it could eventually house three production lines, with an output of 1100 vehicles a year. Lunaz currently employs around 120 people -up from 20 two years ago - with an eventual goal to employ 300 here.

So how do you upcycle a bin lorry then?

Well, you start with an old diesel model. Lunaz has started with the Mercedes Econic, one of the most popular vehicles used for bin lorries in Europe. The changes are significant: enough that Lunaz removes the three-pointed start from the 'engine cover' and replaces it with a Lunaz logo.

The idea is to secure contracts with bodies running waste management schemes (usually the local council itself or a contractor). Most bin lorries are replaced when their warranty is up - usually after seven years, when a machine might have covered 70-90,000 miles, a fraction of the 500,000 or so they're designed to cope with over their lifespan.

The smelly old bin lorry is then sent to a Lunaz facility that's away from the Silverstone unit (which is currently so shiny you wouldn't want a dirty old lorry in there) to be cleaned, stripped down to its shell, have its powertrain removed, have its frame patched up and be repainted.

The clean, stripped shells are then delivered to Silverstone, where the new powertrain and batteries are fitted, the stripped down cab is refurbished and the replacement bin lorry workings are added.

Lunaz uses its own 370kW powertrain that is mounted at the front, where it has to go there to maintain the needed 20 per cent weight distribution on the front axle. The batteries are then mounted down either side of the central ladder chassis.

The powertrain includes a two-speed high/low gearbox so that all of the torque can be accessed as easily as possible. That's another necessary touch given that on some routes bin lorries have to perform standing starts after pick-ups on very steep hills.

Each Lunaz-assembled battery pack has a capacity of 65.5kW and the amount required depends on the use case of each vehicle. It will usually be between four and six, offering a maximum capacity of 393kWh. Lunaz works with each operator to find out their needs, studying each bin route to work out the specific battery needs for each.

That can vary greatly: a bin lorry in rural Scotland might have to drive for 30 miles just to reach the town it is servicing; a lorry in the centre of London might complete 2500 pick-ups in just 15 miles.

Unlike some firms, Lunaz installs each vehicle with a 22kW on-board charger. A rapid charger can be added, but is unnecessary: most bin lorries do a single route a day and then sit in a depot overnight, making them ideal use cases for relatively slow 22kW charging.

The whole upcycle process takes around 11 days.

What's an electric bin lorry like inside?

As with its classic cars, the Lunaz upcycling process goes beyond simply fitting an electric powertrain. There are extensive updates to the vehicle interior and technology. While the basic four-seat cabin and layout of the Econic remains, the seats are reupholstered in a new hard-wearing fabric, which also offers extra space for the two elevated middle seats (apparently by far the last popular with waste collectors.

Bright yellow seatbelts are designed to be easier to find and use during a busy route, while in a bonus on cold, winter days the seats are heated (in part because that's more efficient than using a heater in an EV).

The dashboard has also been reworked, with the addition to two 10in screens - one to show the extra cameras now fitted around the machine, the other giving access to an infotainment system that is compatible with Apple CarPlay. The vents have been reworked, new hard-wearing buttons have been fitted for the heating systems, and the surface has been strengthened on the realisation waste collectors will use it as a footrest.

There's another extra bonus too: more cupholders. The original Econic only featured two, which could apparently make for some awkward arguments among four-strong collection teams. There are now five, so there's even a spare.

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The driving layout has also been reworked, with most of the key controls shifted to the right of the drive, so they can be operated by taking just one hand off the wheel. The sensors and rear camera also mean that the driver no longer needs a spotter behind the van to check if it's clear before sets the lift into action.

Another change: as standard, Lunaz fits digital rear-view mirrors. That's not just for technology: wing mirrors are apparently a frequent casualty given big bin lorries have to negotiate tight city streets.

Oh, and the rubbish compactor itself doesn't miss out on some upgrades. There are new 550 Grade Ardox wear plates, upgraded bushes and a new blade compactor to stop debris getting past the blade. Lunaz has also added rodent-resistant wiring harnesses: rats quite like hiding in bin lorries, apparently, and can cause plenty of issues chewing through wires.

What's it like to ride in?

While you'd think the novelty of electric vehicles being quiet would have worn off by now, there's still something surreal about sweeping out of the Lunaz factory in a near-silent bin lorry. At one point on our short loop we head past the outer fence of Silverstone, where a handful of F1 fans are crouched with long lens cameras trying to get a snap of new F1 cars testing. There is a bit of a double-take when they catch a glimpse of a silent bin lorry.

Without an HGV licence, we're sat in one of the central passenger seats, and while it's not the most luxurious of rides it's certainly not an unpleasant place to spend time. Even with four of us filling the cabin there's a reasonable amount of room, and the wider front windscreen means visibility is good. The powertrain isn't just quiet: it feels smooth, and we're capable of reasonably rapid progress as we tour the roads of Silverstone Business Park.

This is just a short outing, but the Lunaz UEV has spent a lot of time in action here, the firm going as far as to put out bins to simulate stopping and starting collection runs. It's certainly quieter than the bin lorries that sometimes wake me up on a Tuesday morning as they do their pick-up, and it definitely feels more like a new machine than a seven-year-old shell.

Of course, a short lap of a business park doesn't tell us much about a vehicle designed for hours of very specific use, but it's clear that Lunaz has done a very convincing job.

When will a Lunaz UEV be picking up my recycling?

Soon. The firm is currently conducting final validation testing before it plans to start testing the machine on real-world routes later this year. It's now begun to talk to waste collection operators and is beginning to look for partners to work with and tenders it can bid on.

Lorenz says that the price for a Lunaz UEV will be "less expensive than a new alternative", and each machine will come with a Lunaz seven-year warranty. The idea is that after that time the vehicles can be brought back and upcycled again, further extending their life.

More significantly, the Silverstone operation is essentially being used to create a template that can be applied elsewhere. Rather than ship vehicles around the world, Lunaz is focused on local production, with the idea to develop several production facilities close to its main customer bases.

Verdict

The Lunaz UEV is utterly rubbish. Which, for perhaps the only time ever in a Move Electric review, is meant entirely as a complement.

The success of the machine will ultimately be judged by how many take to the roads, and how effective they are in removing old diesel motors from our streets. But the effort Lunaz has put in to developing this process is genuinely impressive - and it's effort that surely won't go to waste.

Lunaz Upcycled Electric Vehicle bin lorry specification

Gearbox: two-speed automatic

Driven wheels: Front

Maximum power: 370kW

Torque: 5162lb ft

Top speed: 56mph (limited)

Battery capacity: 262-393kWh (net)

CO2 emissions: 0g/km

Charging: on-board 22kW AC charger

Rubbish capacity: 10,000kg

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