LOS ANGELES (CN) — California has committed itself to phasing out the heavy-duty diesel trucks that haul containers from the ports to inland destinations by 2035, but a near complete absence of public charging stations for electric trucks presents a major obstacle for truckers to go green.
Although 2035 may seem reassuringly far off, the gap between the state's ambitions and the current lack of charging infrastructure will become much more acute as soon as Jan. 1, 2024, when under a pending proposal the California Air Resources Board will only allow zero-emission trucks to be added to the register for drayage trucks serving the ports.
That deadline, and a recent feasibility assessment issued by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that found little progress has been made in building out a charging infrastructure for electric trucks, has alarmed truckers who feel they are being forced along without a clear understanding of how they'll be able to operate.
"The problem is that the timeline is against us," said Matt Schrap, chief executive officer of the Harbor Trucking Association. "This is 10 months away, and the main question my members have is where is the infrastructure."
Every day thousands of drayage trucks arrive at the ports of LA and Long Beach, the two busiest container ports in the U.S., to pick up 40-foot boxes with imports from Asia and move them to distribution centers and railyards inland. The diesel fumes from the trucks clogging the surrounding streets and freeways have long been a source of misery for the neighboring communities, and both ports have set ambitious goals to eliminate diesel trucks and equipment from the docks.
As part of their long-term strategy to reduce carbon emissions, in February the San Pedro Bay ports released an updated feasibility assessment of the current state of the technology and supporting infrastructure that's going to be needed to completely replace diesel trucks with ZE ones, either with battery or hydrogen fuel cell electric engines, by 2035.
Although electric trucks are gradually becoming commercially available in larger numbers, with big, traditional truck manufacturers and startups having entered the market, the latest assessment found the infrastructure buildout hadn't significantly moved forward in recent years and that uncertainty about how rapidly new charging stations will come online remains.
"The key is that you can't operate the trucks without the infrastructure to support them — they go hand in hand," said Chris Cannon, chief sustainability officer with the Port of LA. "We're still in the emerging phase with infrastructure, and there are a lot of concerns that we need make sure there's enough infrastructure as we begin to deploy these zero-emission drayage trucks, and there's even worry that there may not be enough."
Each year 1,500 to 2,000 drayage trucks serving the ports are retired and replaced with new ones, according to Cannon, and the proposed air resources board requirement that only ZE trucks can be added to the ports' registry starting Jan. 1, will present a huge challenge.
The ports have conducted pilot and demonstration projects with ZE trucks to make sure they can do the work currently done with diesel trucks, but in terms of providing the large-scale infrastructure for thousands of trucks to charge for hours on end, they face significant space restraints and are looking for regional solutions.
To illustrate the challenge, there are about 2,500 commercial diesel stations in Southern California and just two public charging stations for heavy-duty electric trucks, installed in the Port of Long Beach last November.
“Southern California will need a network of thousands of heavy-duty charging stations, not only at the ports but all around the region, as society moves to renewable energy to fight climate change,” Port of Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero said in announcing what were the first public charging stations for drayage trucks in the country.