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Los Angeles Area to Host Government-Funded Electric Semi Demo

A demonstration project will deploy more than 20 Volvo electric trucks to serve ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Electric cars have begun to appear in the market, but bigger EVs are mostly in the development stage.

The future of electric vehicles is reaching beyond the handful of personal car brands, and is landing a place in the trucking and transport industries as regions explore next-generation transportation with the aim of reducing planet-warming emissions and improving air quality.

In Southern California, the government is helping with that...

A demonstration project will put more than 20 battery-electric big rigs on the highways to move goods along the much-trafficked routes between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to warehousing and distribution facilities in the Inland Empire roughly 50 miles away.

“What we are hoping to achieve with this project is the successful demonstration of battery-electric technology for big-rig trucks carrying cargo locally and regionally to and from our ports, railyards and warehouse distribution centers,” said Sam Atwood, media relations manager for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).

“Our ultimate goal is to convert all of the transportation sources in our region — especially heavy-duty trucks — to near-zero and zero emissions,” he added.

SCAQMD’s electric trucking demonstration project is known as the Volvo LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions) project. Roughly half of the project’s $91 million price tag will be funded by a $44.8 million grant from the California Air Resources Board.

The Volvo LIGHTS project will involve 16 partners and is part of California Climate Investments, an initiative that puts funding generated from the state’s cap-and-trade program toward efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The project is set to reduce an estimated 3.57 tons of air pollutants and 3,020 tons of greenhouse gases annually, according to Volvo Trucks officials.

The project, to be fully implemented in 2020, will deploy 23 battery-electric-powered Volvo big-rig trucks, all made in the U.S. The demonstration project will also install both Direct Current (DC) fast-charging and more conventional Level 2 charging infrastructure, which will be managed by Greenlots, a global provider of EV charging software. The infrastructure itself will be developed by ABB Connect, Burns & McDonnell and other manufacturers. The project will also include the development of up to 1.9 megawatts of solar power development to power the electric vehicle chargers.

The aim of the project is not simply to introduce electric trucks, but to explore options to achieve a true zero-emission ecosystem, which means exploring technologies like solar power generation and battery storage, said Lin-Zhuang Khoo, a senior vice president at Greenlots.

“The primary goal of this project will be to show that, hey, it can work in a real-world application, and these are the strategies that we’ve come up with to help you, not just recharge your vehicle in the shortest amount of time, but also lower your total cost of operation,” said Khoo.

Precisely how much range of performance the trucks will display in actual real-world scenarios is still to be determined.

“It’s meant to at least allow a full round trip of these trucks to the port and back, with full container haulage,” said Khoo. “And then also allow enough time to recharge them for the next trip.”

Using the 150 kw DC fast-chargers, Khoo said, “we expect anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours of charging time.”

The Volvo project is not the only effort to introduce battery-electric trucking into the Los Angeles shipping region. In July, SCAQMD and Daimler Trucks North America launched a $31.3 million demonstration project to deploy 20 heavy-duty battery-electric trucks, seven of them at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Those trucks should be in operation by April 2019.

About a year ago, officials announced the eHighway, a one-mile stretch to test three big rigs equipped with electric-hybrid motors and the sort of extendable arm that connects the trucks to an overhead power supply. The project was a joint effort by Siemens and SCAQMD.

Meanwhile, companies like package shipper UPS have been experimenting with the deployment of some 800 fully electric or electric-hybrid delivery vehicles. The company is even using pedal-assist cargo e-bikes and similar electric-assist vehicles to test micro-delivery programs in select markets.

The demonstration trucks to be used in the Volvo LIGHTS project will be based on technology already being used in the Volvo FE Electric, which Volvo Trucks unveiled in May and will begin selling in Europe in 2019.

“This is an excellent opportunity to show the end-to-end potential of electrification,” said Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, in a statement. “From solar energy harvesting at our customer locations, to electric vehicle uptime services, to potential second uses for batteries, this project will provide invaluable experience and data for the whole value chain.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.