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What Has California Got In Mind For Zero Emissions Vehicles?

Considering the trucking industry is gearing up for the new greenhouse gas Phase 2 emissions regulations, one would think the California Air Resources Board (CARB) would be taking a hiatus as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gets to work. Except, that isn’t the case.

Their new set of goals aims to explore and expand on zero-emission vehicle technologies. At the time, CARB is not backing this up with any planned laws or regulations, industry experts anticipate that this new look could lead to new environmental mandates on diesel-powered vehicles that could complicate matters where it comes to moving freight in the state.

As Goes California…

California is different from other states in that it has a singular goal of reducing petroleum use, statewide. Pressure comes from the top and filters on down through the state’s agencies, where reducing emissions is concerned.

Just last year, California legislators attempted to pass a bill that would have cut petroleum use in the state by a full half. While that didn’t pass, it led to what we see today, which is an increasing focus on finding realistic ways to develop, field and mass produce zero- or near-zero emissions commercial motor vehicles.

Some may say, “Well, I don’t run in California.” In reality, that doesn’t matter. California is not an island. California has an economic engine that dwarfs that of most countries, let alone states. When CARB passes a rule, it ripples out across the industry.

Some say the changes that may come out of these new initiatives should take into account more than just the vehicle side of the equation. Might California do better to concentrate on modernizing its infrastructure rather than targeting diesel trucks? There are two sides to every argument.

The Other Side

CARB contends that the actions they take to further zero-emission and clean combustion technologies will have benefits that stretch far beyond the bottom line. According to some estimates, California has some of the most polluted cities in the country. The state faces a very challenging problem in figuring out a way to meet federal air quality and emissions standards while not harming its strong economic engine.

So what are CARB’s new guidelines? Specifically, they seek to:

  • Ensure all federal health-based air quality standards are met. Key milestones are set for 2023 and 2031.
  • Reduce their greenhouse gas footprint by 40 percent by 2030.
  • Reduce their greenhouse gas footprint by 80 percent by 2050.
  • Halve petroleum use in the state by 2030.

Considering the new federal ozone standards are set to a tough level, fleets will have to put in extra effort to meet them. This will require major changes across the industry, whether you are talking about industrial, transportation or manufacturing.

What CARB is essentially doing is attempting to lay the foundation for emissions reductions on multiple levels. From cleaner engine technologies to renewable fuels and zero-emission technology, California aims to end up with reductions that come in 90% cleaner than today’s standards.

Actions CARB is Taking

CARB is moving aggressively to plant the seeds that will grow into these changes. The agency is thinking beyond merely heavy-duty vehicles and is focusing on off-road equipment and more. These actions include steps to deploy zero-emissions technologies across a broad spectrum of equipment types, from busses to forklifts and airport ground support equipment.

Still, these actions go further than just aiming their intent at heavy-duty commercial vehicles. They will also affect other aspects of the freight network. Other measures outlines include a desire to see a quarter percent improvement in freight system efficiency by 2030.

While some say CARB is overreaching, the fact is no rules or regulations have been specifically mandated just yet. At this point, trucking will have to wait and see what the Golden State decides.

Have You Heard Of The California-Compliant Trailer For Trucking?

In the last five years it’s likely you’ve seen an explosion of trailers sporting side skirts and tail fairings. In large part, the vast increase is a result of regulatory changes in the state of California. While there was some hand-flapping when it was introduced by the California Air Resources Board in 2009, it didn’t take long for motor carriers to realize that this is one regulation that would actually help save them money.

Although many at first thought the regulation unnecessary, it served in large part to help increase the focus on aerodynamics and fuel cost savings. Under the rule, 25-foot box-type trailers – whether dry or reefer – must be equipped with SmartWay-approved side skirts or tail fairings. It requires a 4 to 5 percent fuel economy savings when combined with low-rolling-resistance tires.

There Will Be Exemptions

Since the rule was implemented, however, there have been a host of exemptions that allow for varying degrees of compliance dates depending on fleet size and operational engagement (I.E. Long-haul or regional).

This presents a challenge for smaller fleets. It becomes difficult for them to figure out which exemptions apply to them and whether or not their fleet meets the requirements. As a result, some fleet owners are getting hit with citations merely for not knowing the exemption date for their fleet.

And as many of the exemptions reach their sunset period, the certainty surrounding these accessories remains. As Phase 2 of the federal greenhouse gas regulation hits the national stage following the conclusion of the comment period, using items like side skirts and tail fairings will certainly become nearly ubiquitous.

A Rule For All Trucks

If the Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase 2 rule remains largely unchanged following the end of the comment period, fleets nationwide should get prepared to start spec’ing their trailers to help aid in tractor fuel economy.

And the proposal governs more than just side skirts and fairings. It also contains language on LRR tires, automatic tire inflation systems and other lightweight components. Non-box trailers are not left out. While they may not require certain aerodynamic components, they will still need LRR tires and automatic tire inflation systems.

What To Consider

If the rule goes nationwide, expect many of the same problems faced by California drivers. If you are operating in one of these fleet types, pay extra care to how closely these compliance measures apply to you:

  • Fleets with high concentrations of regional or local work.
  • Parts of the country/region with lower speed limits.
  • Fleets with high trailer-to-tractor ratios.
  • If you are a leasing company or non-owner of a trailer.

Also keep in mind that the aerodynamic challenges of the day will be met by new technologies tomorrow. Our understanding of fuel economy and performance engineering will continue to evolve. Still, some say there is a finite number of ways that you can treat a trailer before there’s no more tht can be done.

There are limitations at play, after all. How effective a side fairing is, for example, is limited by its dimensions. Try to design taller or longer skirts and then you have to worry about ground strikes or trailer access for maintenance purposes.

As seen when the EPA unveiled their SuperTruck Project, these problems can be overcome. Even today, aero research technicians are testing out advances new designs, aided by such innovations as geometric shaping, vortex generators and longitudinal grooves.

As new nano-materials come online, expect new advances in the way air flows around the trailer, as well. Air-flow separation and wake management are exciting new areas of research in materials science. But the question remains, how much will you see of this technology?

Well, if the government has anything to say about it, you might be seeing a lot more. And while it’s easy to dismiss government regulations as overly onerous and burdensome, in this case, it might not be such a bad thing.

How California Impacts Trucking

It’s no secret that California leads the nation in implementing new regulations. Due to its sheer size, rules written by the Golden State tend to be adopted by other states and even influence federal rulemaking.

This is especially true in the area of environmental and fuel regulatory standards. Currently, California has some of the most stringent rules in place where vehicle emissions are concerned. This is why industry experts across the country are watching what California does with baited breath.

A New Executive Order

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed an executive order directing state agencies to craft an “integrated action plan” by next summer. The mandate requests that agencies set “clear targets to improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies and increase competitiveness of California’s freight system.”

Otherwise known as the California Sustainable Freight Strategy, the action plan aims to identify policies, programs and investments that will help California achieve its sustainability targets.

In the end, the final plan will be contributed to by several existing agency strategies. These will include the California Freight Mobility Plan, The Sustainable Freight Pathways, and Zero Emissions Discussion Plans.

A Method to the Madness

It should be a surprise to very few that California ranks as the eighth-largest economy in the world. It’s no wonder then that Governor Brown made his freight views quite clear in his recent announcement. After all, freight efficiency and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive principles.

In his statement, Brown noted that the freight transportation system accounts for a full third of the state’s economy and jobs. Considering freight-dependent industries accounted for over $700 billion in revenue in 2013, there may be some merit to his words.

The fact is, significant investments in infrastructure and sustainability are necessary to ensure California remains a competitive state, and Governor Brown knows this. He went on to say that “the policies and investments of state transportation and environmental agencies can influence California’s freight system to become more efficient, competitive, and environmentally sustainable.”

A Pathway to Success

In order to ensure that progress is made towards reaching the goal of a sustainable freight system, Brown ordered state agencies to make progress on instituting “corridor-level freight pilot projects within the state’s primary trade corridors that integrate advanced technologies, alternative fuels, freight and fuel infrastructure, and local economic development opportunities.

This new executive order comes on the heels of one Brown issued in April that aims to ensure California’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 40 percent by 2030. This appears to be one of the most aggressive benchmarks enacted by any government in North America so far to date. According to the Governor’s office, their goal is to reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Noted in its language, the Sustainable Freight Pathways to Zero and Near-Zero Emissions Discussion Document states that the Governor’s executive order is sort of a blueprint for what future regulations may be enacted.

As the California Air Resources Board explains it, the Pathways document presents a clear vision of a clean freight system. It also outlines immediate steps that can be undertaken to support zero and near-zero emission technology.

An Industry’s Take

According to Brian Kelly, Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, “If we want to effectively protect the environment and simultaneously make the movement of goods easier, while expanding economic competitiveness, we must have one integrated freight strategy.”

Yet the industry remains decidedly measured on the topic. The California Trucking Associations’ reaction was quit neutral. According to them, this proclamation “demonstrates the important of California’s freight transportation system to the state’s economy.”

They were quick to caution, however, that “as the state contemplates more costly new emissions targets, it must consider the economic impact to the trucking industry.”

The fact is, California truckers already spend a hefty chunk of change to meet California’s current standards. How new regulations are set to affect trucking remains to be seen.

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