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Port of LA and SCAQMD Partner on Electric Tow Tractor Demonstration Project

Rendering of the electric tractor for the port. Click to enlarge.

The Port of Los Angeles and South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) are working together on a demonstration project to use all-electric tractors to tow cargo containers from the Port to local warehouses and rail yards.

The $527,000 initiative, funded by the Port and AQMD, will explore the feasibility of replacing diesel-powered tractors with ultra-clean, all-electric units.

Under the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) approved by the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in November 2006 (earlier post), $15 million has been set aside for a Technology Advancement Program. The electric tow tractor demonstration project is the first project to be approved under this CAAP program component.

AQMD has committed $48 million to help replace older diesel trucks in addition to technology advancement projects such as the electric tractor. As part of the CAAP commitment, the Port has committed at least $85 million over the next five years for truck replacement and retrofits.

We believe that transporting cargo containers from the docks to nearby warehouses and rail yards can be done cleanly with heavy-duty electric vehicles. We are excited about this project and look forward to testing this technology in realistic conditions.

—Geraldine Knatz, Ph.D., Executive Director for the Port of Los Angeles

The project is slated for three main components, and expected to be completed in about 7 months. The three components of the project are:

  • Develop a barebones chassis to demonstrate on a dynamometer that the battery and motors are capable of the necessary towing performance;
  • Complete chassis for initial road tests; and
  • Demonstration phase.

The basic parameters of the project will be to develop an all-electric tow tractor that will have fast-charging capabilities; a top speed of 25 mph; a range of 40 miles per charge; and sufficient torque and power to tow up to a 60,000-pound container.

AQMD selected Balqon Corp. to develop the vehicle for the Project. AQMD picked Balqon because it offers a completely electric alternative engine, is located in the South Coast region, and can deliver a product in an 18-week schedule. Balqon has extensive experience in design, development, and manufacture of electric vehicles, and has developed heavy-duty electric buses in operation in Hawaii and other locations. Balqon will work with Spartan Truck Company, Inc. on the truck trailers and related hydraulic equipment necessary for the project.

In September 2006, the US EPA’s West Coast Collaborative, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach announced they were collaborating to develop and test hybrid technology yard tractors for use on container terminals.

The hybrid vehicles would use either a hybrid-electric system to combine the cleanest available diesel engine technology with an electric motor, or a hybrid-hydraulic system that would combine the cleanest available diesel engine technology with components that use hydraulic fluid compression to store energy. (Earlier post.)



the advancement of all the electric drive trains from ultra small cars to now class 8 tractors seems to be happening all at once.
sounds corny, but this could be the pivotal turning point in future propulsion.


Yes, apparently it is.

_Anyone catch Mike Millikin's appearance on tv? Some of the points covered were the rush to, and of alternatives, and new and rediscovered technology.

Lou Grinzo

M: Nothing corny about it. I'm convinced we're living through the beginning of an "electrified transportation revolution". The technological hurdles have either fallen or are on their way down, and the public is more than ready for cleaner, cheaper, and more price-certain transportation.

Nothing gives me more hope for our energy future than does recent events in this area.


I like this development.

I see no references to regenerative braking though - they could significantly extend the battery lifetime by recapturing energy from braking (complicated by the fact that some of the braking takes place in the trailer and not the tractor).


The ports had a major problem with ships using dirty fuel to go in and out of port, so now they have them use cleaner fuel within a certain distance from port. Then they had a problem with them idling in port and made them hookup to electric. Calstart has been working on stuff like this for more than 10 years, it did not happen over night.


Hey while theyre at it why not require LSD for ships idling in port?


I'm glad someone is doing something; the sooner someone steps up to the plate and takes a swing, the sooner we can learn the rights and wrongs and start using the technology and move on to production. Hurry up with the batteries already and don't sell the patents to "big oil." Electric transportation in the "now" big thing and once it's rolling, we will have jumped the largest obstacle, an end run around Exxon and the oil lot.


Exactly the right sort of application. heavy duty but always close to the maintenance/charging facilities and where utilization can be high - big ports don't shut down.

They probably omitted regenative braking - the top speed is 25mph and most moving is probably done much slower.

I am disappointed they are only now at the feasibility study point. The article is a little unclear, they are building a demonstration/proof vehicle - which isn't quite what 'feasibility' means to me - but no matter.

The seven month schedule indicates they aren't going to screw around on the proof phase.


As you all know I'm a BEV fan. I have to wonder though if fuel cell HEVs would not be better in this application. Fast refil, 24 hour operations, single location.


Fuel cells aren't ready for prime time, and it isn't clear that they will ever be a major player.

As long as you don't have problems with battery lifetime, pluggable vehicles make a whole lot more sense, and they will be cheaper to operate than anything involving hydrogen.


Back to the Future.
Electric truck, 1916.

John Latusek

I agree that 2007 looks like being a breakthrough year for the all-electric vehicle. In the UK we now have 7.5 ton delivery trucks on the road in the livery of Starbucks and TNT Express. They are produced by Smith EV http://www.smithelectricvehicles.com who who have been around since 1920 and are part of Tanfield Group who also make tugs for docks and airports. The upsurge of interest in this past few months has been phenomenal. Some electric cars, let's face it, look like they wouldn't survive outside of Toytown, but with Phoenix Cars new pickup now entering production, and with these trucks, vans, tugs, etc., all coming to market or on trial, I do feel we have turned a historic corner.


Why does anyone seriously think these are clean vehicles? In all likeliness, they are far more polluting than ordinary diesel tractors. The electricity they use is generated in highly inefficient fossil fuel burning power plants. And their batteries are full of non-recyclable toxic dirt.

This is a very bad development for the environment, I think.


Then, dear Django, you are misinformed.

Even if the electricity is all coal it is still cleaner by far than diesel engines. This because of the higher efficency of the electrics compared to the fossils.

And toxic junk... High tech batteries are not that bad and there are a million worse things no one is complaining about.

Try to see the big picture.


Ot depends on how much kw of power the trucks realy need. If its not too high a fuel cell is far better then a battery as a tiny fuel cell can power a low speed tractor just fine all fay long with just a few 350 bar tanks of fuel. But if its needs more oomph then that its solidly in the battery side of things until the cheap higher power fuel cells start comming out.

In the end tho likely all the tractors and such like this will be completely automated fuel cell tractors simply because its alot cheaper to get all day and night duty out of a small fuel cell then it is out of a battery pack.Muh cheaper too.

John Latusek

Django - the fact that one end of the electric industry has some way to go to clean up its act is no reason not to applaud the user end of the market doing its bit. We can still continue campaigning on the former - rather than using it as easy excuse to carp at every good bit of progress. The Port Of L.A. should be applauded for trying something which, if successful and copied worldwide, will make a serious difference.


I think this would be the ideal place for a hybrid drive train. Have either a fuel cell or gen-set keeping the main drive batteries SOC at best level for longer service life.

I think that the "range" of 40 miles is a little short. This may be fine for moving containers around the yard, but to move off site to a warehouse? For a port that is running 24/7, when do you stop to charge? And how long do you think a battery pack that size will need to charge? How about the power load required to charge a couple of these beasties?

I think electric drive is ideal for a tractor that is primarily used at slow speeds and does a lot of start/stops. Wal-Mart did some tests and is using fuel cell fork lifts in one of their DC's. From "driving" 'lifts a few years back, those things are basicly battery packs with wheels. In high use situations they just swap out a discharged pack for a charged pack. There was no fesible way to charge a battery pack that big, that fast.

So to my point, in an application like this, I believe a BEV based unit with some other onboard (clean) energy source would be ideal. Fuel cells could be supplied by hydrogen. Gen-sets could be bio-fueled and optimized for clean running.


I think the obvious fix to the battery charge time is to switch battery packs as Jason noted for fork lifts. They have complete freedom of design; the tractor need not be integral with the battery carriage.

Forty miles is quite a range. That is probably with a light load. That port is large but hardly the size of a nation. The average pull is likely to be two miles or less.

hampden wireless

This is a great application for a serial hybrid. Most of the speeds are slow, lots of use for regen in breaking. most of the tractors could be hybrid, but since its a terminal you could still keep a few of the old ones for jobs the hybrid could not do or do well. Full all electric units could be there too for the jobs they do best.

Hybrids or all electrics would save lots of maintenence costs.


With such a short range that tractor will need 3-4 batteries each all charing up ina battery area somehwre. That area will likely be VERY large as it will need to handle alot of packs and chaging of the truck packs. It will also have t be manned by a crew 24/7.

On the other hand a small fuel cell and some tanks and the tractor driver themsevles can just park and fuel in a few min and run that sucker all day long.

While 3-4 packs per truck would copst ALOT 2 small fuelcells would cost maybe 8000 and a fueling station wuldnt cost much.. and 350 bar tanks are cheap...

No rew to pay no horde of packs charing day and night no massive charging areano heavy lift equoment needed to puull massive packs out and stack em for charing then slap in fresh packs.. Just a small little fueling area.

Thats why walmart is going fuel cells.

Oh and unlike a battery the fuel cells wont plummet in performance and range when a cold front comes in and brings feeezing temps. How much of that 40mile range is left if a winter storm hits?

John P.

A pantograph like they use on trolleys would be a whole lot cheaper than fuel cells or even a genset. Every time the truck came around it would go into the empties que and raise the pantograph automatically.

Special pantograph lanes could be set up for trucks incoming and outgoing so that empties on both sides would get a charge. Charging stations or lanes could also be set up in the parking zone for the break area.

With this setup you would get at least ten minutes of charging time per hour of service. Of course given dockside traffic much of that hour would be spent at low speed or wait for traffic to clear.

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