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May 25, 2012

Los Angeles to Electrify Freight and Cut Oil

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Vehicle fleets represent only about 7 percent of the U.S. vehicle stock, but account for more than 35 percent of the nation's transportation-related fuel consumption. If the country is going to kick the oil habit, solutions are going to have to include vehicle fleets.

Siemens had this in mind when it developed an electric freight trucking system and tested it out in Germany. Now this system has a taker in the second largest city in the U.S.: Los Angeles. This "eHighway" concept connects diesel hybrid trucks with electric wires. As you can see in the video below, these trucks run on electric when connected and seamlessly switch back to diesel where there are no wires.

L.A. plans to put in place a pilot program and build it into Interstate 710, a stretch of road that bustles with trucks because of its proximity to the nearby ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

More than 40 percent of freight that arrives in the U.S. go through those two ports. Estimates say freight transportation in the U.S. will double by 2050, and carbon pollution from it will increase 30 percent by 2030. 

"We are increasingly interested in what vehicle fleets are and are not doing to reduce emissions and dependence on oil," said Gina Coplon-Newfield, who directs the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicles Campaign. "For many companies with light and medium duty vehicles, switching to electric will be a very smart way for them to save on fueling costs and slash their pollution output."

Electrification would not only put a huge dent in the country's oil use and emissions, it would translate into health-cost savings. Pollution from Los Angeles' two main ports affect millions of nearby people and "causes billions of dollars in health-related costs annually," according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District -- which hopes the city can get the eHighway "off the ground in the next 12 months."

Let's hope L.A. drives this forward fast, and that other municipalities use it as a model as they too search for cleaner and more efficient ways to move goods.

-- Brian Foley

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