In April 2023, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted the Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) rule, with regulations targeting truck buyers.
The rule has sparked much conversation since it comes on the heels of a previous rule passed by CARB in 2021 called the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule, which targeted truck manufacturers with electric vehicle (EV) production requirements. States like Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have adopted ACT, giving rise to speculation as to whether the same states or additional states will step in to adopt the new ACF rule.
Although ACF principally aims to reduce emissions and increase zero-emission vehicle fleets, concerns have been raised by fleet operators as to the rule’s feasibility. One point of contention lies in the proposed timeline, which calls for different fleets to be zero-emission depending on the truck class. For instance, sleeper cab tractor fleets would have to be 25% zero-emission by 2033 and 50% zero-emission by 2036. Such tight timelines have raised concerns due to the technical challenges and costs associated with implementing zero-emission or EV fleets.
Plus, at this juncture, it’s clear that battery technology is not yet up to par with the capabilities inherent with a CNG or diesel truck. Long-haul battery electric trucks have an operating range of about 150-330 miles, while a clean diesel truck has a range of around 1,200 miles. Weight factors must also be taken into consideration. Currently, battery-electric trucks use batteries that are much heavier than their diesel truck counterparts. This is a concern since trucks are subject to federal weight limits, meaning that operators will have to decrease the payload of each battery-electric truck, which will put more trucks on the road and ultimately increase traffic congestion and tailpipe emissions.
Sourcing the materials needed to produce the lithium-ion batteries that power battery-electric trucks has also been an ongoing issue from both a supply chain and an environmental perspective. Most car manufacturers are looking to gain footholds in lithium mines for EV battery materials since two-thirds of the world’s lithium is sourced there, but it can take an average of 16 years or more for a mine to be ready for production. Further, the process of mining lithium and cobalt is energy-intensive and has negative environmental impact, including land degradation and groundwater contamination. Due to these concerns, alternative methods, such as extracting lithium from lakes and clay deposits, are being researched.
Switching to an EV fleet also requires reliable charging infrastructure. Significant utility planning, processing time and production time are needed before electric vehicle fleets are up and running.
Finally, shortage concerns over lithium and cobalt will ultimately drive up the cost of EVs, which would put smaller trucking companies in a bind if the tight zero-emission timelines proposed in California’s ACF rule is adopted by more states. Many in the industry, particularly those in privately owned small-to-middle market companies, view this type of regulation as yet another government agency with unelected bureaucrats injuring the industry – in its outlook, driver shortage and pipeline – and ultimately the sector’s ability to ship goods to and for customers for a fair price.
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