The Ports of L.A. and Long Beach rolled out their 2017 “Clean Air Action Plan” (CAAP) this July aggressively stepping up air quality standards for the region. Originally adopted in 2006, the plan has steadily reduced emissions through the purchase of alternate fuel vehicles at the port and the imposition of a “Clean Truck Program” (CTP). The initial program required the reduction of pollution from Cargo Handling Equipment by 81% and Diesel Emissions by 91% from 2005 to the present. According to LA’s recent report card, much of this has been accomplished. As momentum for clean port trucking grew, other ports stepped up to the challenge of developing their own action plans.
Establishing Green Initiatives
In 2007 the ports of Metro Vancouver, Seattle and Tacoma created the “Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy.” Their objective, to reduce diesel particulate emissions by 80% per ton by 2020. The Port of Vancouver initiated a “Truck Leasing System” in 2008 designed to put newer more efficient diesel engines on the road. In the Gulf, Houston developed their “Clean Air Strategy Plan” after a 2009 study assessed 35% of the port’s air pollution to diesel truck emissions. Partnering with Galveston and the Environmental Defense Fund, the port approved funding for the upgrade of 50 trucks per year to more efficient diesel engines. The Georgia Ports Authority is investing over $17 million in electric RTGs so that their entire fleet of cranes will have electric power capacity within the next 10 years. ERTGs utilize 95% less diesel than conventional units. Virginia’s “Green Operator Program” has been supporting the replacement of aging diesel engines since 2006. It is funded by the Port of Virginia and the D.O.T. “Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality” program. Beginning this October new guidelines for the replacement of 2010 or newer trucks will go into effect with an offering of $20,000 in rebates or 50% of the purchase price of a new vehicle.
Last March drayage trucks in the Port of New York and New Jersey were required to meet EPA standards established for 2007 or later heavy haul diesel engines. Only qualified trucks will now be permitted to apply for a “Port Truck Pass” required for entrance into the port. Independent operators and licensed motor carriers who make at least 150 trips to port terminals within a 12-month period are eligible for up to 50% of the cost of a new truck or a maximum of $25,000
Taking diesel off the road
In Southern California, the new CAAP includes the creation of programs to advance emission reduction technology and further the testing of zero-emission trucks. Mayors Garcetti and Garcia have pledged zero emissions for cargo handling equipment by 2030 and an ambitious goal of zero truck emissions by 2035. Although much of LA’s initial success came with the replacement of older diesel engines with costly more efficient ones, this was not a complete answer, according to many environmental groups. Some truckers have tried alternative fuels but that’s been a rocky road and regional haulers have mixed emotions about current success and future goals.
When the CTP launched in 2009, L.A. was prepared to spend up to $100 million in federal grant money on preliminary forays into diesel alternatives. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) was to be the “new age fuel” and the port embraced replacement of diesel with this alternative. Today truck brokers can’t give LNG trucks away. Draymen who originally bought into the program have said they would never use natural gas again. Between constant breakdowns, sensor and starter problems and the lack of sufficient fueling stations, LNG trucks fast became the white elephants of container drayage.
Another idea was to power heavy haul vehicles by battery. While battery alternatives were considered as part of the early truck replacement plan, their value fizzled out quickly. Even today as Tesla moves into the heavy haul market some former executives say electric long haul is still not feasible. Batteries have yet to be developed which are small enough and powerful enough to move freight for any appreciable distance.
While most ports are grappling with reductions in diesel emission Southern California is looking beyond diesel. With current technology, not quite up to that stage of development where does that leave So Cal’s clean truck program? Are zero emissions actually attainable?
CNG might be one answer.
Developed by Cummins Westport, the ISL G Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) engine has received praise from the California Air Resource Board (CARB). They claim it’s near zero emissions are equivalent to 100% battery power. It is also the first natural gas engine to be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency. Some haulers in Southern California have embraced the technology integrating CNG into their fleet, eventually hoping to phase out diesel trucks. It takes more natural gas to haul a container but the operating range for these trucks is between 500 to 600 miles. Within the LA Long Beach regional market CNG might make sense; drivers making a same day roundtrip from C.Y. to warehouse back to the ocean terminal. Natural gas is being promoted as America’s fuel but how does it measure up over the long haul?
Natural Gas vs. Diesel
There are 108 fueling depots across California but once you leave the state stations are fewer and farther apart. Long haul routes would have to be planned around refueling and that could be time consuming. Consider today’s cost of ownership. At present many owner operators are finding it hard to justify the CNG price tag which can be $50,000 more than diesel. The average truck covers approximately 125,000 miles a year; it would take 4 to 5 years to amortize the additional cost of a natural gas truck.
The Cummins Westport ISX12 G heavy haul engine was first introduced in 2013 so the technology is fairly new. Next year they plan to showcase their B6.7N, L9N, and ISX12N models purported to be the lowest emission engines in the market today. Introduction of LNG as a fuel was met with enthusiasm but truckers today are skeptical of both the performance and reliability of running on CNG. One fleet owner noted that it required 3 LNG trucks on hand to maintain 2 roadworthy units. Independent operators can’t bank on odds like that.
Admirable goals in a practical world
Many ports are setting the bar high for regional haulers, requiring the purchase of new diesel trucks perhaps only to be asked to go electric or CNG in the future. Creating programs to further natural gas technology is a step in the right direction but convincing the local truckers to put their dollars and faith into alternate fuels is quite another. Until natural gas engines prove themselves in actual operation it may be a while before more draymen step back up to the plate. Even CARB admits that the current CNG engines only produce “Near Zero emissions. So, are zero emissions attainable? Only the future will tell!