In the days after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, firefighters near Naples put out six blazes in electric vehicles that had been submerged in seawater.
It was a first. The North Collier Fire Control & Rescue District had never before dealt with an EV fire. The hurricane’s storm surge flooded thousands of vehicles with salt water, and the surprising fires added a challenge to a fire department that was already overwhelmed by search and rescue operations in the wake of the deadly storm.
The fires also put a political target on electric vehicles.
As part of its effort to reduce air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, California is pursuing aggressive policies to promote clean trucks. The state already requires that by 2035, all new cars and other light-duty vehicles sold in the state must be zero emission. Its powerful Air Resources Board has adopted rules requiring that most trucks be zero emission by 2035, and is now proposing that all trucks sold by 2040 must be zero emission. The Conversation asked a panel of transportation experts from the University of California, Davis what’s involved in such a rapid transition.
1. Why is California targeting medium- and heavy-duty trucks?
To a degree, yes. Some new models, mainly powered by batteries but some by hydrogen fuel cells, are available on the market, and more are being announced almost daily.
But the production volumes are still small, and there are many variations of truck models needed for very diverse applications, from delivering mail locally and plowing snow to hauling goods cross-country. Many of these needs cannot be met with currently offered zero-emission trucks.
The total cost of ownership for zero-emission trucks, which includes the purchase price, fuel costs and maintenance, is already competitive in some applications with conventional diesel trucks. One example is trucks used for local goods delivery by companies like Amazon, UPS and FedEx. This stage is also known as last-mile delivery – getting a product to a buyer’s door.
These trucks are typically driven less than 150 miles per day, so they don’t need large battery packs. Their lower energy costs and reduced maintenance needs often offset their higher purchase costs, so owners save money on them over time.
The market in California is already reacting to these policy signals and is developing quickly. In the past year, there has been a large increase in sales of last-mile electric delivery trucks, and companies have stepped up their pledges to procure such vehicles.
3. Is there enough charging infrastructure to support all these vehicles?
Providing near-zero-carbon electricity for EVs and hydrogen for fuel cells, and expanding charging and hydrogen refueling infrastructure, is just as important as getting zero-emission trucks on the roads.
Fleet owners will need to install chargers that can charge their battery-powered trucks overnight, or sometimes during the day. These stations may require so much power that utilities will need to install additional hardware to bring electricity from the grid to the stations to meet potentially high demands at certain times.
Fuel cell trucks will require hydrogen stations installed either at fleet depots or public locations. These will allow fast refueling without high instantaneous demands on the system. But producing the hydrogen will require electricity, which will put an additional burden on the electric system.
Presently there are few public or private charging or hydrogen stations for truck fleets in California. But the California Public Utility Commission has allowed utilities to charge their customers to install a significant number of stations throughout the state. And the U.S. Department of Energy recently allocated $8 billion for construction of hydrogen hubs – networks for producing, processing, storing and delivering clean hydrogen – across the country.
Despite these efforts, the rollout of charging and hydrogen infrastructure will likely slow the transition to zero-emission trucks, especially long-haul trucks.
4. Who would be affected by a diesel truck ban?
California’s rules will affect both truck manufacturers and truck users. The state’s Advanced Clean Trucks rule, adopted in 2020, requires the sale of increasing percentages of zero emission trucks starting in 2024. By 2035, 40% to 75% of all trucks, depending on the truck type, must be zero emission.
A new proposal scheduled for adoption in early 2023, the Advanced Clean Fleets rule, would require fleets with over 50 trucks to purchase an increasing number of zero-emission trucks over time, with the requirement that all truck sales and purchases be zero emission by 2040.
These two policies would work together. The Advanced Clean Trucks rule ensures that zero-emission trucks will become available to fleets, and the Advanced Clean Fleets rule would give truck manufacturers confidence that the zero-emission trucks they produce will find buyers.
These two rules are the most ambitious in the world in accelerating a transition to zero-emission trucks.
We expect that transitioning to zero-emission truck fleets will require strong policy support at least until the 2030s and perhaps longer. The transition should become self-sufficient in most cases as production scales up and fleets adapt their operations, resulting in lower costs. This could be soon, especially with medium-duty trucks.
Converting large long-haul trucks will be especially challenging because they need large amounts of onboard energy storage and benefit from rapid refueling. Fuel cell systems with hydrogen may make the most sense for many of these vehicles; fleets will ultimately decide which technologies are best for them.
The transition to zero-emission trucks will be disruptive for many fleets and businesses, and will require government support during the early years of the transition. Overall, though, we believe prospects are bright for zero-emission trucking, with enormous clean air and climate benefits, and eventually, cost savings for truck owners.
U.S. legislators need to give automakers operating in the United States more time to achieve the required sourcing levels of battery minerals used in electric vehicles to qualify for federal tax incentives, several industry executives said on Wednesday.
The Biden administration said on Wednesday it is awarding $2.8 billion in grants to boost US production of electric vehicle batteries and the minerals used to build them, part of a bid to wean the country off supplies from China.
Cirba Solutions will receive approximately $75 million in federal funds to expand critical mineral upgrading assets at its lithium-ion processing facility in Lancaster, Ohio.
The city of Oakland, California, will be the site of a vehicle-to-building pilot analyzing how zero-emission transit buses can maintain critical loads during emergency conditions, project participants announced Tuesday.
Funded by the California Energy Commission, the “powerhouse green energy project team” involves the city, Oakland-based public transit agency AC Transit, the Center for Transportation and the Environment, The Mobility House, New Flyer, Schneider Electric, and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, or WOEIP.
Forecasters expect sales of electric vehicles (EVs), already at record levels, to grow at a breakneck pace in the years ahead. This transition from gasoline to electric-powered vehicles matters not only for car buyers and climate goals, but also for state governments. In the aggregate, fuel taxes provide nearly 40% of the revenue that states direct to their transportation funds—special accounts for transportation spending. Much of that could vanish in the coming decades.
Despite the attention on EVs, their sales remain a modest share of total vehicle sales. Still, state policymakers will need data to inform decisions about how to fill the funding gap that’s expected once sales increase. By producing long-term projections of gas tax revenue, state analysts can provide critical estimates for how quickly and how far gas tax revenue will fall. And that will help states implement sustainable transportation funding sources.
As Midwest manufacturers work to electrify heavy-duty vehicles, a big challenge remains: how to charge them.
The trucking industry makes up about one-quarter of the country’s transportation emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Equipment manufacturers including Illinois-based Navistarhave developed, or are in the process of developing, commercial electric vehicles to reduce this impact. Charging stations that serve commercial vehicles are starting to pop up in places like Michigan, and five states formed the Regional Electric Vehicle Midwest Coalition last year to accelerate vehicle electrification and charging infrastructure development, especially for fleets.