Hybrid “terminal tractor” test gets green light

Aug. 14, 2009
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is coordinating an effort to test a new plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) yard tractor prototype to move shipping containers and cargo within port facilities

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is coordinating an effort to test a new plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) yard tractor prototype to move shipping containers and cargo within port facilities. The equipment will be tested at SSA Container Terminal on Pier A at the Port of Long Beach, CA, for three months and, if the tests prove successful, EPRI said it could lead to the large-scale replacement of diesel-powered yard jockeys nationwide.

“Terminal tractors are the most prevalent piece of equipment at container ports and they typically idle 50 to 80% of the time they’re in use,” said Andra Rogers, EPRI’s senior project manager of electric transportation. “It’s feasible that by converting their [yard] tractor fleets ports could reduce emissions from this source by 80% for nitrogen oxides, 50% for carbon dioxide and significant amounts of other criteria pollutants. These vehicles can make a big impact on lowering a port’s overall emissions.”

US Hybrid Corp. is building the PHEV jockey, which can move containers weighing up to 95,000 lbs using the horsepower of its diesel engine yet not need to run the engine when idling in electric vehicle or “EV” mode. However, these trucks don’t come cheap: according to EPRI, it costs $80,000 to convert a typical diesel-only yard tractor into a PHEV model.

Rogers told FleetOwner that EPRI’s role is to coordinate testing of the one hybrid terminal tractor prototype among several ports over the course a year – starting with the three-month test at Port of Long Beach, then shipping the vehicle for testing and evaluation at ports in Savannah, GA, Mobile, AL., Houston, TX and New York City.

“The goal is to test this hybrid vehicle in several different duty cycles, to measure the fuel economy savings, emission reductions, and vehicle maintenance savings as well,” she said. “Based on the work done with this single prototype so far, we estimate the payback right now is at six years. But this project is more geared to proving a diesel-electric hybrid tractor can perform in port service while delivering savings and emission reductions.”

In a year of full-time operation the PHEV terminal tractor is expected to cut fuel consumption by 3,000 gallons compared to a diesel-only model, which could be a huge boon to port operators. For example, the Port of Long Beach alone, Rogers noted, operates a fleet of 754 such terminal tractors.

“These trucks are one of the most prevalent pieces of equipment working at any port,” Rogers added. “So reducing fuel consumption and emissions by switching to hybrids would be a big deal. We’re also looking at the tractor being able to operate on electric power both at idle and while hauling containers. Though the batteries store just four hours of power, we believe allowing the vehicle to pull containers in just electric-only mode would increase the fuel saving and emission reduction benefits.”

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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