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California Invests Millions In Cleaning Up Trucks Around Major Ports

Mack Diesel Electric Hybrid Heavy Duty Truck (Jerry Hirsch/Trucks.com)

California air quality agencies will pour $23.6 million into low-emission and zero-emission trucks to clean up air pollution at state’s ports.

The money will pay to deploy 43 zero-emission battery electric and low-emission plug-in hybrid drayage trucks to serve major California port areas.

Drayage trucks are short-haul vehicles used in ports, rail yards and surrounding areas to transport goods, often between ships and trains.

The project “will accelerate the commercialization of advanced zero-emission truck technologies that are vital to improving air quality in communities near our busy freight corridors,” said Joe Buscaino, a Los Angeles city councilman and South Coast Air Quality Management District board member.

“Cleaner truck fleets on our roadways are important for air quality and climate goals, and essential to protecting public health,” he said.

Funds for the project are coming come from California’s cap-and-trade carbon emissions reduction program and air quality agencies.

The pollution fighting pilot project is “critical for our major ports in California if we are going to meet are air quality and greenhouse gas standards,” Sandra Berg, a member of the California Air Resources Board, told Trucks.com.

The program targets drayage vehicles because they are among the oldest and dirtiest on California roads, Berg said.

“This project will help put the very cleanest short-haul trucks to work where they are needed most, moving cargo from the state’s biggest ports to distribution centers and rail yards,” said Mary D. Nichols, chair of Air Resources Board.

Manufacturers building vehicles for the project include Volvo Group North America's Mack Trucks, Paccar’s Peterbilt and Kenworth brands and BYD Motors, a Chinese company.

“Other fleets will take notice and recognize that battery-powered drayage trucks are reliable and available for wider deployment today,” Stella Li, president of BYD Motors.

BYD will deliver its first battery-electric drayage truck this fall, Li said.

Mack Diesel Electric Hybrid Heavy Duty Truck (Jerry Hirsch/Trucks.com)

Volvo is already experimenting with diesel-electric plug-in hybrid big-rig tractors.  One can travel in electric mode with a full load for up to 10 miles, said Dawn Fenton, spokeswoman for the Swedish truck company.

Electronics on the truck can switch it from diesel to electric power when it is operating in a port or traveling through a community with poor air quality on its way to a distribution center or railhead.

Scrubbing the pollution from California’s drayage truck system is a tall order.

“Today's announcement is a good starting point,” said John Boesel, chief executive at Calstart. “To help these trucks become commercially viable, California will need to sustain investment in this sector over the next several years.”

The technology might provide a blueprint for reducing emissions in other large trucks.

“We are hoping we can transfer what we learn to long haul trucks,” Berg said. “We know the jury is still out on whether they can perform at such low emission with their heavy duty drive cycles, but know we start to get some real time data on whether that can happen.”

Freight transport accounts for about half of toxic diesel particulate matter, 45 percent of the emissions of that form ozone and fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, and 6 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in California, according to the air resources board.