Los Angeles may be one of the first global cities to adopt a new electric freight trucking system, unveiled by electrical engineering giant Siemens Corp. last week at the 26th Electric Vehicle Symposium, or EVS26.
The new technology, called eHighway, is a highway electrification system that uses overhead electrical wires to transmit energy to freight trucks in select vehicle lanes, similar to modern-day streetcars.
“Most people think about cars when they think of vehicle emissions, but the reality is it’s freight trucks,” said Daryl Dulaney, chief executive of North American infrastructure and cities sector for Siemens.
Freight transportation on U.S. roads is expected to double by 2050, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. But long before then, by 2030, the carbon dioxide emissions caused by freight transport are forecast to increase 30%.
Siemens created the technology to address the increased carbon footprint of trucking, and Los Angeles may be the first city to see this technology in action. The company is working to implement a pilot project along Interstate 710, moving freight from the ports of Long Beach and L.A. to inland destinations.
More than 40% of freight that arrives in the U.S. via shipping containers comes through the ports of Long Beach and L.A. That freight then has to be trucked to rail stations and other points of distribution.
More than 10,000 trucks serve these two ports, according to a 2011 analysis conducted by the Port of L.A. The movement of goods through Southern California’s ports affects almost 17 million people and causes billions of dollars in health-related costs annually, according to a 2011 report from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The report cites that levels in port areas are far higher than in other communities due to the activity of trains, trucks, ships and heavy equipment. For California to meet federal air quality standards, the AQMD has said the region will need to accelerate its transition to zero- and near-zero-emission trucks and cars.
“The ports have made tremendous improvements, but goods-movement-related air pollution remains our largest source of air pollution in Southern California,” said Barry Wallerstein, AQMD executive officer. “We’re hopeful that we will get [the eHighway] off the ground in the next 12 months,” said Wallerstein, who is working to secure grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to build it.
Siemens’ eHighway is one several technologies the AQMD is investigating. It’s currently running pilots of zero-emission electric and fuel cell trucks at the Port of L.A. and envisions marrying the eHighway to near-zero-emissions technologies to help meet federal clean air standards.
The eHighway’s so-called catenary system uses diesel hybrid trucks outfitted with software that senses when an overhead electrical line is available and automatically connects or disconnects as needed. When the trucks’ rooftop connectors are attached to the electrical lines, the trucks run entirely on electricity. When the connectors are lowered, they run on a hybrid electric propulsion system similar to the Toyota Prius. In hybrid mode, the trucks save 30% on diesel fuel.
In addition to reducing emissions, the trucks also reduce noise pollution. But there is a downside: Siemens estimates the system will cost between $5 million and $7 million per mile to build.
“The purpose of this demonstration project is to accelerate zero-emission cargo transport technologies that will reduce harmful diesel emissions, petroleum consumption and greenhouse gases,” said Edward Kjaer, director of Southern California Edison’s Plug In Electric Vehicle Readiness Program. “Purchasing electricity and energy produced locally in place of diesel can insulate the region’s economy from oil price shocks due to instability in foreign countries and depleting resources. Utilizing electricity produces greater energy price certainty for businesses, and in turn, consumers of the goods being moved.”
The eHighway concept has been getting a test run on an old air strip near Berlin for the past year. The L.A.-area eHighway is likely to be its first real-world application.
“It’s really about creating a more sustainable environment,” said Dulaney, who is in talks with the AQMD and Southern California Edison. “Already more and more consumers are driving electric and hybrid vehicles. If we can get the commercial freight industry to come on board, we’ll decrease emissions dramatically and improve sustainability.”