The Port of Long Beach in California handles trade worth in excess of $180bn from 175 shipping lines connecting to 217 seaports around the world. In 2017, more than 7.5 million container units passed through the port.

US port operators are increasingly demanding more environmentally friendly machines and Californian ports have taken a lead in this respect by setting a target of having fully electric fleets by 2030.

Ports present some unique environmental challenges given their frequent proximity to residential areas. Diesel emissions are a major concern - especially when transiting to and from the port to inland drayage concentrations, warehouses and other facilities – and the potential inclusion of external warehousing under the port’s emissions output has highlighted the issue of ‘incidental emissions’.

At a recent public meeting, a resident of nearby Oakland observed that because of increased enforcement at the port, trucks were idling throughout his area, while a resident of Fontana, which lies to the north east of Los Angeles, said a solution to “the increasing number of trucks and warehouses in our neighbourhoods” was required.

Californian regulators are considering indirect source rules designed to reduce emissions from vehicles associated with a facility by imposing limits on emissions per unit of cargo. Proposals include new fees or ‘gate rates’ for heavy duty diesel trucks entering port terminals.

Port of Long Beach in the heart of electrification project

Kalmar has been working with port authorities to improve air quality in the Long Beach area for more than a decade. As long ago as 2006, the company was involved in a project to develop, build and test ultra-low emissions hybrid cargo handling vehicles.

Now the Kalmar Ottawa electric terminal tractor, T2E, is playing a key role in a freight/drayage electrification project that will test 25 zero- or near zero-emission vehicles over a 12 month period. The Port of Long Beach freight electrification project, funded mostly by a $9.7m grant from the California Energy Commission, will be the nation’s largest project for zero emissions cranes and other seaport cargo handling equipment.

The project includes converting nine diesel-electric rubber tyre gantry cranes into fully electric equipment at one terminal, purchasing 12 battery-electric yard tractors for two more terminals, and the conversion of four liquefied natural gas or LNG trucks into plug-in hybrid-electric trucks for a drayage trucking firm.

The Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles offer seed money to foster the development of new freight equipment and projects relating to improving air quality. The funding is part of the ports’ technology advancement programme adopted in 2006 and to date they have distributed in excess of $21m to advance the commercial availability of technology that will help lower air pollution emissions from ships, trucks, harbour craft, cargo handling equipment and rail locomotives serving the ports.

Kalmar has been developing electric powered machine technology since the 1980s and the T2E is the first step in electrifying the terminal tractor range. It is also a significant milestone in Kalmar’s journey towards producing an electric version of every product in its portfolio by 2021.

The Kalmar Ottawa electric terminal tractor is designed for trailer handling operations in dispersed warehouses, container terminals and other applications where short distance road travel is required. It features Kalmar’s latest lithium-ion battery technology and a fully electric powertrain that produces zero emissions at source.

The vehicle has an on-board inverter charger that allows it to be ‘opportunity charged’ during working breaks. A battery monitoring system displays charge status and indicates when recharge is required.

Compared to a diesel powered tractor the T2E generates less noise, vibrations and heat and – most importantly - no fumes. A T2E tractor driver would not have to worry about no-idle zones in the vicinity of the Port of Long Beach and local residents would not have to tolerate emissions transferred from the port to their neighbourhood.

Up to 26 hours on a single charge

When asked in a recent interview about short distance highway travel and the metrics associated with that (for example, load characterisations and distance travelled), Gina Lopez, Vice President of Terminal Tractors for Kalmar said battery capacity is based on operational hours and need.

The T2E can run for between six and 26 hours on a single charge. Most industrial or commercial facilities would have sufficient service to power up at least one T2E-sized truck although as fleets expand, facility-based charging infrastructure could certainly require service upgrades.

An obvious service challenge is to match the ability to refuel diesel equipment where it is being used – a process that is relatively easy with a fuel truck or portable tank but more challenging when electricity is the fuel and continuous operation is a basic work metric.

Inevitably, electric vehicles have higher upfront costs than their diesel equivalent (Lopez estimates that the electric terminal tractor will cost about twice as much as a diesel-powered vehicle). Electric vehicles cost less to run, though, and while the difference between the cost of electricity and diesel varies from location to location, a typical customer would see a reduction in their energy costs of between 85 and 90%.

As for maintenance, Lopez observes that with the electric tractor there is no longer a need to change oil or transmission fluid. Hydraulic fluid does not need to be changed for at least the first two and a half years of service - depending on operating cycles – and coolant fluid maintenance is only required every five years compared to every year with a diesel engine.

Number of benefits – for drivers as well

The electric tractor has a single 12V battery rather than the two batteries required by a diesel vehicle and battery life expectancy is longer because it isn't required to start the engine.

Beyond the obvious reduction in local emissions, as well as helping operators to reduce costs the Kalmar Ottawa electric terminal tractor also offers a number of benefits for drivers. The electric powertrain offers smoother acceleration and more power at the top end compared to a diesel-powered machine and also generates less noise, vibrations and heat, making the cabin a much healthier and more comfortable working environment.

As with the company’s other electric-powered machines, Kalmar’s new terminal tractor has been developed to offer a clean alternative for any application where a diesel powered machine is currently used without the need for the customer to compromise on performance or productivity.