With the 2010 Environmental Protection Agency emissions regulations behind, and the trucking industry currently gearing up to integrate the first phase of new greenhouse gas emissions regulations going into effect in January, fleet managers may have thought they’d heard the last from the California Air Resources Board for a while.
But CARB is back with a new slate of initiatives designed to explore zero-emission vehicle technology. At the moment, these proposals are focused on evaluating the current state of ZEV technology, exploring the potential for increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of these technologies in the future, as well as looking at other, non-vehicle means of further improving air quality in California. While there are currently no laws or regulations associated with this new CARB effort, industry experts fear that they may soon lead to all-new environmental mandates that specifically target diesel-powered trucks and will make it much more difficult — and expensive — to move freight in the Golden State.
Many fleets find virtually any proposal emanating from CARB difficult to swallow.
The agency itself enjoys a special status among the state’s agencies, according to Mike Tunnell, director, energy and environmental affairs for the American Trucking Associations, who notes that the agency is made up of political appointees who take their marching orders directly from the governor’s office.
“California is a lot different than most parts of the country,” Tunnell explains. “For starters, Gov. Jerry Brown is determined to reduce petroleum use in the state. And every state-wide office in California is held by a Democrat. So the agency definitely gets a serious push to regulate vehicle emissions from the executive office right on down the line to the legislature to be aggressive when it comes to reducing emissions in the state.”
Tunnell says this includes a contentious bill state legislators pushed last year that sought to reduce petroleum fuel use in the state by 50% by 2030. This was followed by an executive order from Gov. Brown to develop a sustainable freight plan, which has clear targets outlined to increase freight efficiency while moving toward zero emissions vehicles. Those measures have now evolved, he says, with the new Zero Emissions initiative, which seeks to find realistic pathways to developing and fielding zero- and near-zero-emissions trucks, vans and support equipment in the state.
Even if you don’t run in California, this is likely to affect you eventually. Due to California’s super-charged economic engine, ranked the sixth strongest in the world, CARB regulations are like an underwater earthquake far out at sea: They can have massive implications far away from the source of their origin.
“California’s not an island,” quips Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, an advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of diesel engine manufacturers and users in the United States. He notes that trucking in California is part of a larger, national freight network, with many trucking companies there that serve other states as well.
“We really feel the key here is that California needs to be mindful of the fact that its trucking industry is part of something bigger,” Schaeffer explains. “Trucking is such an interconnected world that the changes California’s Air Resources Board are seeking can’t just come from the vehicle side of the equation alone.”
Schaeffer believes California would be better off concentrating on upgrading and modernizing its network of highways and infrastructure and on eliminating or reducing delays and congestion at state ports and on its roads. “We’d like to see CARB look at ways to improve methods that help trucks move freight more efficiently,” he says, “instead of trying to micromanage the types of fuel used by truck fleets.”
Vehicles vs. freight efficiency
CARB insists that actions to deploy both zero-emission and cleaner combustion technologies will be essential to meet multiple clean air goals in the state. According to Craig Duehring, manager, In-Use Control Measures Section for CARB, California has some of the most polluted cities in the U.S. and faces very challenging mandates to meet federal air quality standards and climate change goals. Which is why, he says, CARB has issued its zero emissions vehicle proposals with the following goals in mind:
- Meet all upcoming federal health-based ambient air quality standards (with key milestones in 2023 and 2031)
- Achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
- Achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
- Reduce petroleum use in the state by up to 50% by 2030.
Since the new federal ozone standards are set at a tough 0.070 ppm of NOx emissions, Duehring says meeting them will require additional actions to reduce smog and protect public health. “Meeting all of these goals requires nothing short of a bold transformation in all sectors including stationary, industrial, residential, and transportation, with significant contributions from public agencies, private businesses and individuals,” he insists. “In order to meet California’s health-based air quality standards and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, the cars we drive and the fuel we use must be cleaner than they are now and must transition to cleaner fuels. And zero-emission vehicles are a key part of the strategy.”
Duehring says CARB is laying the groundwork for reducing emissions from the heavy-duty truck sector on multiple fronts, including cleaner internal combustion engines, renewable fuels, and zero-emission technology. Additionally, the strategy calls for internal combustion engine technology that is effectively 90% cleaner than today’s current standards, with clean, renewable fuels comprising half the fuels burned.
“Cleaner engine standards will be especially important for interstate trucks given the status of technology development and infrastructure requirements,” Duehring notes. “These efforts will be complemented by introduction of zero-emission technologies in heavy-duty applications that are suited to early adoption of ZEV technologies. Applications such as last mile delivery, transit and shuttle buses, and other small vocational trucks offer the potential for increasing use of ZEV technologies.”
To accomplish these goals, CARB has already put actions in place to promote ZEVs in heavy-duty applications. Duehring says the goals are to further reduce regional and near-source toxics exposure as well as foster the development of these technologies so they become suitable for broader use in the future. But the emphasis won’t just be on trucking: Off-road equipment, for example, will need to reflect this same type of transformation to a mix of zero and near-zero technologies operating on renewable fuels.
The end result is a new CARB program that is focused in the near-term on electrification and progress towards zero-emission technologies. “These technologies are critical,” Duehring says, “to continue to reduce near-source exposure to air toxics, especially around freight hubs such as ports, rail yards, and distribution centers.”
As a result, CARB’s strategy will include actions to deploy zero-emission technologies across a broad spectrum of sources, including passenger vehicles, targeted truck and bus applications, forklifts, transport refrigeration units, and airport ground support equipment. At the same time, the cleaner combustion technologies now being demonstrated for sectors such as heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, and ocean-going vessels will provide the bulk of the smog-forming NOx reductions needed to meet air quality standards by 2031.
But the new CARB proposals don’t simply target vehicles. The sustainable freight portions of the proposals include aggressive measures that will further complicate matters for fleets working in California. These include:
- Measures that will improve freight system efficiency 25% by increasing the value of goods and services produced from the freight sector relative to the amount of carbon that it produces by 2030
- The deployment of over 100,000 freight vehicles and equipment capable of zero emission operation and maximize near-zero emission freight vehicles and equipment powered by renewable energy by 2030.
- The establishment of a target, or targets, to increase state competitiveness and future economic growth within the freight and goods movement industry based on a suite of common-sense economic competitiveness and growth metrics.
“The Sustainable Freight part of the Zero Emissions proposals is actually good news for the trucking industry,” Tunnell admits. “It will include measures such as increasing truck parking in the state, removing traffic bottlenecks to streamline traffic flow and reduce congestion, the establishment of dedicated freight corridors that could accelerate the adoption of truck platooning, and additional infrastructure improvements.”
But Tunnell cautions that the effectiveness of the Sustainable Freight proposals will boil down to funding. “How much will CARB spend to fund tech mandates, and how much till go toward infrastructure? And that worries me. Because there are so many uncertainties with technological advancements: Everybody expects and wants to see electric vehicle technology move forward very quickly. But nobody today knows how fast those advances will materialize.”
Schaffer brings up an additional point: Due to California’s already-strict emissions laws, the state has a truck fleet that is significantly older than most states today. According to Diesel Technology Forum studies, California’s truck fleet today ranks 48th on a percentage basis of newer trucks on the road.
The way to help California achieve its clean air goals, he says, is increasing the turnover of its existing truck fleet, “not investing in new technology that may, or may not, pan out. The newest generation of diesel engines are the cleanest in history. And putting more of those trucks on California roads would offer the greatest benefits in meeting CARB’s emission goals in a short-term fashion.”
“It doesn’t make sense,” Tunnell adds. “You’d think with everything else it’s doing, California would have one of the cleanest fleets in the country. But that’s not the case.” He says the last two round of emissions regulations combined with next year’s GHG regulations have disrupted normal turnover cycles and delayed the purchase of new equipment in the state. “They have banned pre-2007 trucks from the state,” he says. “But there are numerous exemptions. And they have rules in place that will ban all pre-2010 diesel trucks from the road by 2023 (with exceptions). So there is a pretty expedited time frame in place for turning that equipment over. But speeding that along would probably be the most helpful action the state could take in the short term.”
Are zero-emission trucks even possible?
How reasonable are CARB’s proposals? Can zero-, or near-zero emissions vehicles, be put to work effectively in the near future?
Natural gas is an obvious first choice — but since the proposals demand up to a 50% reduction in the use of fossil fuels burned in the state by 2030, the bulk of new power methods for trucks and vans will clearly fall on electric and hydrogen fuel cell power systems.
Duehring says CARB recognizes that there are currently significant limitations, as well as pros and cons, with each of those technology paths, but argues that recently there have been major advancements in key areas, including zero emission transit buses, battery technology, and substantial cost reductions.
“We think trucks will follow the same trend, and we believe there are opportunities to use zero-emission vehicles in applications where they are well suited,” he says. “Zero emission vehicles are already viable in some applications. Battery electric zero-emission transit buses and airport shuttles are already commercially viable and in many cases have a lower total cost of ownership than a traditional conventional vehicle. Fuel cells are economical in forklift applications and are being demonstrated in transit buses and some truck applications. Step vans and box vans are commercially available and are already being supported through funding programs.”
Chris Shimoda, director of policy for environmental affairs at the California Trucking Association, points out that CARB’s initial focus is on electric forklifts, plugging in TRUs while at freight facilities, and Class 3-7 trucks in the last mile delivery space.
In addition, he says, “Class 8 drayage has been the focus of much of CARB’s incentive programs for small-scale pilots and demonstrations, and we may see some larger scale demos in the next 5-8 years for routes within 10-20 or so miles from the ports,” he says. “CARB has acknowledged that they do not see a near-term technology solution for long-haul duty cycles, but that does not mean they will stop pursuing long haul, which is a big portion of the VMT and associated emissions from trucks within the state.”
Tunnel points out that although the light-duty ZEV industry has “made incredible advances,” light-duty zero emissions sales are 3% of the market after 30 years of development. “When they started trying to boost all-electric drivetrain development, they were shooting for 10 to 20% of the market. So the technology hasn’t developed as quickly as they expected.”
Several companies have been developing electric technology for trucks in California, including Electric Vehicles International (acquired earlier this year by First Priority GreenFleet), Wrightspeed, and BYD Motors.
BYD’s Andy Swanton, director of business development, says the company, which concentrates on vocational applications such as goods movement, P&D and refuse, already has advanced electric drivetrains on the market with ranges up to 100 or even 150 miles per day. “Right now, we think we can increase battery density on these systems by a factor of 10% a year,” he says. “So an electric vehicle bought today will see its range increase yearly, and different applications will open up as range increases.”
UPS has long been a leader in alternative fuel vehicles. And Kristen Petrella, the company’s sustainability public relations manager, says it currently has more than 100 all-electric vehicles deployed in California, with another 100 more working throughout Europe. She says UPS is working closely with vehicle manufacturers to improve these products in terms of range and performance. “We are also looking at hydrogen fuel cells,” she says, “and expect some new information next year which may allow us to work more with that technology. We tested a hydrogen fuel cell Mercedes Sprinter van in 2003, but determined that it was not ready for commercial use at that time.”
Meantime, CARB’s Duehring rejects any suggestion that trucking is being treated unfairly by the agency. “Californians should not have to breathe unhealthy air,” he says and notes that if the state, which has some of the worst air quality in the country, fails to comply with Federal Clean Air Act, it could be subject to economic sanctions. “Trucks contribute to air pollution, but have not been singled out,” he says. “They are only one of several categories that have been subject to regulation.”
Time will tell if CARB has overreached in terms of truck technology. Trucking can only wait and see what will eventually emerge and hope for an emphasis on freight efficiency instead of a ban on diesel.