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Dray carrier opts for natural gas to meet California standards

(Photo: TTSI)

A California-based drayage carrier is switching its entire diesel fleet to renewable natural gas as part of the state’s drive for near-zero emissions trucking.

Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI) will replace 40 diesel trucks with trucks using a 12-liter, 400-horsepower Cummins Westport engine that runs on compressed natural gas.

The trucks have 90% lower nitrogen-oxide emissions than regular diesel trucks. The use of renewable natural gas, which is made from food, plant and animal waste, will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80%.

TTSI and other motor carriers in Southern California are facing increasingly strict requirements on truck emissions at the region’s ports. California only allows 2007 model year or newer trucks to operate in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Any new truck added to the port’s drayage registry has to be a 2014 model year or newer, a restriction which started in October 2018.

The ports are also considering assessing fees starting in 2020 for any truck that enters the port, with exemptions for zero- and near-zero emissions trucks. 

In any given month, 13,000 to 14,000 trucks call at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, emitting roughly 2,600 tons per year of smog-causing nitrogen-oxide emissions. In April, the ports released their own assessment of the state of low-emissions truck technology and found that natural gas was furthest along in commercial development relative to battery- and hybrid-electric fuel cells. 

“If every one of the 14,000 trucks that call at these ports were changed to natural gas, it would have a major impact on air quality in the region,” said Vic LaRosa, President of TTSI. “We hope other haulers will follow our lead and make the switch as well.”

A grant from California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) will offset 25% of the cost of the fleet replacement. CARB provides grants up to $52,000 for each Cummins engine.

Emissions will also be lowered through the use of renewable natural gas to fuel the trucks. 

TTSI had previously used 8.9-liter, 320-horsepower, natural gas-fueled engines in its port drayage operations. But TTSI reported dismal results with those first natural gas engines as “drivers were very reluctant to operate the trucks due to the lack of power and maintenance problems.”

In a 2018 test of the 12-liter Cummins engines, TTSI said the units performed “very well” and had the needed torque to haul containers over the two arched bridges that span the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

The trucks were fueled at stations run by Clean Energy Fuels, which provides renewable natural gas.