U.S. agencies remain focused on emissions

John G Smith

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – U.S. regulators attending the annual Green Truck Summit continue to focus on long-term emissions targets, stressing the need to improve vehicles to fight climate change.

 “In California we are not debating climate science,” said Jack Kitowski, chief of the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) mobile source division. “The facts will end up speaking for themselves.”

The west coast state takes a particularly tough stance on emissions, and it struggles with the worst air quality in the country, but air quality is an issue in other areas of the country as well, Kitowski says.

Gains have been made, of course. Diesel Particulate Filters capture soot that once belched from diesel stacks. But the worst air quality can still be found around transportation hubs such as ports and warehouses, Kitowski said.

“Linehaul trucks are the primary emissions source, absolutely true, but we need to make progress in every sector,” Kitowski said, referring to the room to improve transit buses, last-mile delivery trucks, and airport ground transportation.

The technology to support such a shift is coming. CARB financial incentives focused on early research and development as recently as three years ago, but is increasingly focusing on ways to actually commercialize new clean vehicle technology.

The benefits of Zero Emission Vehicles are not limited to cleaner air. They help the U.S. become more secure because their fuel is inherently domestic, drawn from the electric grid, natural gas or hydrogen, says Reuben Sarkar, deputy assistant secretary for transportation with the U.S. Department of Energy. Even maintenance costs tend to be lower because of factors such as extended brake life. Drivetrains capture the energy from a rolling vehicle rather than relying on friction alone.

“We’re past the teething issues of reliability,” he said. “You’re going to be getting falling technology costs in the future.”

There are already 30 makes and models of such vehicles in the market, and prices are dropping. Battery power priced at $1,000 per kwh in 2008 is expected to cost $125 kwh by 2022. Part of the challenge to adoption rates is that diesel and gasoline prices have dropped as well. “They actually have to come down quite a bit more,” he says, referring to the need to target $800 per kwh.

Gains can also be found in other alternative fuels. Fuel cells are 80% cheaper than 2002, have five times less platinum compared to 2005, and seen durability increase fourfold since 2006, Sarkar says. Granted, most of the related products are in the light-duty space.

Medium-duty trucks could benefit from some of the gains to come. “Work electric, drive electric. We’re likely to see more and more of that in the work truck space,” Sarkar says, referring to demonstrations of modular lithium ion battery systems as an example. And Mercedes-Benz recently showcased a concept for an electric delivery van. Advances like that will be particularly important as urban centers begin to restrict access to combustion engines.


John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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