Can California Meets Its Goal to Eliminate Diesel Trucks?

Truck manufacturers are in a race to replace the biggest polluters in California, diesel trucks. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have a challenging $14 billion plan that hopes to eliminate diesel equipment by 2035; $9 billion is set aside just for the purchase of new clear-air trucks.

Diesel trucks are the iconic workhorses of California's economy and replacing them will be difficult and expensive. About 40 percent of all goods imported into the United States come in through California, and it takes around 16,000 diesel trucks to distribute these goods to warehouses across the country. It will take more advances in technology, more time and a lot of money to replace all of these trucks.

The clean-air plan relies on using heavy-duty trucks that produce near zero emissions. However, the choice of which technology is the best approach is not clear.

Electric trucks have the potential of producing enough horsepower and being truly emission-free but few supporters. Seasoned truckers have a hard time believing an electric rig can transport 80,000 pounds, have a range more than just 200 to 300 miles and have batteries that are easy to recharge.

Natural gas technology is further along compared to other competitors. But they are not as clean-burning as electric, and a recent state program conducted on the performance of LNG trucks was disappointing, in spite of substantial hype and expense.

Hydrogen cell engines are very far from significant use, but they have broad potential for going longer ranges. Fill-ups are quick, and the only by-product is clean water. Unfortunately, hydrogen cell trucks will need a massive infrastructure of hydrogen refill stations to become a practical alternative.

Hybrids powered with some combination of electricity and natural gas may be the most practical solution. A hybrid would solve some of the problems with the other technologies, but it probably would not be able to achieve total emission-free status.

No matter which technology wins the race, all experts agree that big-rig trucks are going to be more expensive to purchase and operate, at least until they are put into mass production. An owner-operator can purchase a brand new diesel rig for $150,000, whereas a new hydrogen-powered truck would set him back around $450,000, not to mention that need of extensive hydrogen refill stations.

Environmentalists love electric power, but they overlook the fact that big-rig trucks would consume huge amounts of power. Recharging the batteries on the family's SUV is one thing, but recharging the batteries on fleets of big-rig trucks requires a whole different level of charging stations and power lines.



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