Southern California environment news and trends

Maritime industry, California Energy Commission tout electric trucks at San Pedro's Port Tech Expo

Molly Peterson/KPCC

TransPower is developing 2 trucks, one for off-road use, one that can take cargo from the port along freeways to train yards.

Molly Peterson/KPCC

The California Energy Commission gave 1 million dollars to TransPower to develop a battery powered, heavy duty truck.

Big trucks use a lot of fuel, and burning that fuel creates a lot of pollution. At the Port Tech Expo in San Pedro, the California Energy Commission highlighted its investment in one local company's electric engines.  

That private company - TransPower - makes battery powered heavy-duty trucks, the kind that can haul a full container from a dock over the Vincent Thomas Bridge to a train yard. TransPower got a little more than 3 million dollars to build those trucks - and California Energy Commissioner Carla Peterman says the state chipped in a third.

“Heavy-duty trucks are the backbone of California's economy,” Peterman told a maritime-industry crowd. “But they are not like these. They are not clean and they are not zero emission.”      

Half of TransPower’s funding comes from private enterprise, with a smaller contribution from regional air regulators.

TransPower’s CEO, Mike Simon described being unable to persuade his large former employer or a smaller company to grant him a million dollars in start-up funds. “I think this goes to show how important the public sector can be,” he said.

“The private sector is great, its what got America where we are today,” Simon added. But, he observed, private enterprise lacks the “wherewithal” to stick it out for solutions that take a long time coming. In fact, he says, ending dependence on oil is “just as important as the transcontinental railroad and Project Apollo,” referring to NASA’s programs to launch spacecraft to orbit the Earth and land on the Moon. 

So far, TransPower has retrofit two engines - replacing diesel power with batteries in one truck meant for warehouse use and in another used for short hauls. Both trucks are nearly silent: four clicks, a whirring noise, and they’re in motion.

Federal and state environmental and air regulators funnel millions of dollars into companies working on alternative fuel technologies. According to the state’s energy commission, medium and heavy duty vehicles are less than 2 percent of California’s vehicle fleet, but consume about 16 percent of the state’s fuel. “The air pollution of this fuel directly impacts public health,” Peterman said. 

Commissioner Peterman told representatives of the maritime industry that it's important for the state to support private enterprise like TransPower.

“Although the energy commission's 100 million investment in alternative fuels is sizeable, it is still less than the 200 million dollars that Californians spend on gasoline a day,” she said.

The Port of LA has developed partnerships with other companies, including Harbor City's Balqon, so TransPower has plenty of competition. But the company anticipates delivering a half-dozen or so freeway-ready clean trucks in about a year.

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