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Cleaner Trucks, Buses, and Freight Projects Poised for Big Boost in California

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Moving freight in California produces a lot of pollution. It’s one of the largest sources of smog-forming and diesel particulate emissions and is a growing source of global warming pollution. Fortunately, the recently passed budget in California is good news for making some progress on cleaner freight technology in the coming year.

Signed by Governor Brown, the budget includes an allocation of funds generated from AB32 Cap and Trade auctions, which must be directed toward investments that will reduce global warming emissions. Out of an estimated $850 million dollars, $200 million has been directed to the Air Resources Board (ARB) for investments in low-carbon transportation over the next year. In a plan to be decided upon by the board this week, as much as $85 million of the clean transportation funding has been proposed to be invested in deployment and demonstration of advanced, low emission heavy-duty vehicles and freight-related projects focused in communities most impacted by freight.

These investments in technologies like zero-tailpipe-emission battery and fuel cell powered trucks and buses will not only ensure progress on developing cleaner freight technology necessary for deep cuts in global warming emissions, but will also deliver much needed air quality benefits as well.

Funding proposed for pilot bus and truck demonstration projects could mean more electric or fuel cell buses, like this one operated by AC Transit outside of our Berkeley office, on California's roads. Larger deployments of these buses are projected to decrease per bus costs, and allow these technologies to move to the next stage of commercialization, according to the Fuel Cell Partnership.

Funding proposed for pilot bus and truck demonstration projects could mean more electric or fuel cell buses, like this one operated by AC Transit outside of our Berkeley office, on California’s roads. Larger deployments of these buses are projected to decrease per bus costs, and allow these technologies to move to the next stage of commercialization.

Modernizing California’s freight system is critical to achieving healthy air and reducing climate emissions

Pollution from freight transportation, primarily powered by diesel engines, continues to be one of the largest sources of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and diesel particulate matter emissions in California, despite the significant progress that has been made in reducing emissions from both new and in-use trucks and equipment.

The freight sector also represents about 10 percent of California’s global warming emissions and is poised to grow. Recent estimates show that goods movement in CA is expected to increase by as much as 80 percent by 2040 compared to 2011. Moreover, the costs of freight pollution do not affect all Californians equally. Evidence shows that many low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live in close proximity to freight centers and corridors, and therefore face greater exposure to particulate matter and other air toxics. (See our fact sheet on Modernizing California’s Freight System for additional info.)

Meeting California’s air quality and climate goals in the freight sector will take multiple strategies. Some of the biggest overall emission reductions in the near term can come from improving conventional diesel and natural gas-powered heavy-duty vehicles.

For example, my colleague Dave blogged recently that global warming emissions from new heavy-duty trucks could be reduced by 40% compared to 2010 levels by 2025 with improvements such as better engine efficiency, aerodynamics, and tire rolling resistance. ARB also recently passed alternative certification levels for heavy-duty vehicles for NOx emissions to encourage the development and deployment of lower-NOx-emitting diesel and natural gas engines that significantly exceed current standards.

However, reducing pollution from the freight sector to protect impacted communities and to curb climate emissions enough by mid-century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change will require advanced low-emission and zero-tailpipe-emission trucks, buses, and freight transportation equipment. These technologies are in an early phase of development and deployment, but offer the promise of reducing both global warming and other tailpipe pollutants as I wrote about in a previous blog post. Investing funds from AB32 Cap and Trade revenue in cleaner freight technologies will help to move these technologies closer to full commercialization.

Proposed cleaner freight spending breakdown for 2014/2015 

Here’s the breakdown of heavy-duty vehicle and freight-related investments in the plan being considered by the Air Resources Board on June 26.

This all-electric truck I spotted in Oakland earlier this year is one of the types of advanced vehicles being supported by the HVIP program.

This all-electric truck I spotted in Oakland is one of the types of advanced vehicles being supported by the HVIP program.

Hybrid and Zero Emissions Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project  – HVIP ($10 to $15 million)

The HVIP program provides purchase incentives for commercially available hybrid or electric trucks, much like the rebate program for electric passenger vehicles. As much as two-thirds of the funding will be spent on projects in disadvantaged communities. Because of low sales volumes and the current early stage of the market, the incremental cost of these advanced technology trucks is significantly higher than their conventionally powered counterparts. The HVIP program has been important and successful in already aiding the deployment of 1,600 hybrid and electric trucks since 2010. In travels around the Bay Area and Sacramento, I’ve seen the occasional Pepsi and Fedex hybrid delivery truck as well as a few battery electrics trucks like this Frito Lay truck shown in the photo.

Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Pilot Demonstration Projects ($20 to $25 million)

These projects would display larger deployments of electric transit buses, school buses, and freight truck or delivery fleets. (Note: when I refer to electric trucks, I mean plug-in battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles.) One of the challenges of moving electric trucks and buses to full commercialization is moving from single-vehicle demonstrations to larger, concentrated deployments. Fleets operating zero-tailpipe emission trucks and buses need to install infrastructure for charging and build up capacity for vehicle maintenance and personnel training. Funding demonstration projects with larger numbers of vehicles can help increase manufacturing volumes, further validate the technology, and demonstrate success in specific applications. These projects will also be targeted to disadvantaged communities.

Large Freight Technology Demonstration Projects (up to $50 million)

This final investment category aims to support deployment of zero-tailpipe-emission technology into three areas of freight movement. The first is a focus on demonstrating electric drayage trucks, rigs that typically move containers short distances from local ports and rail yards to warehouses, distribution centers and other locations. The second area is multi-source facilities. These could include warehouses, distribution centers, or ports and railyards where numerous types of on-road and off-road equipment are used to move goods. The projects would need to demonstrate multiple types of zero-emissions equipment. The final area of investment includes locomotive and marine technologies as well as other emerging technology. Again, these projects would be targeted at disadvantaged communities.

Overall, the funding plan for heavy-duty and freight investments expands funding not only for commercially available heavy-duty vehicles through expanded HVIP incentives, but also for larger deployments of pre-commercial, zero-tailpipe-emission trucks and buses and advanced technology freight. Prioritizing these investments in communities disproportionately impacted by freight pollution — near ports, rail yards, warehousing and distribution centers — makes sense.

Commercializing cleaner technology in the freight sector and deploying it broadly will be a decades-long effort requiring multiple strategies, significant investments, and occasional course corrections. This year’s proposed funding plan represents an important step in the right direction for cleaner trucks, buses and other freight transportation. It will also help maintain California’s leadership in advanced transportation technologies—bringing investment dollars to the state while cleaning our air.

Posted in: Global Warming, Vehicles

About the author: Don Anair is a senior engineer with expertise on diesel, hybrid and battery electric vehicle, and goods movement technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming. He holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering. See Don's full bio.

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