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Getting serious about electric tractors

Amid strong demand in the United States, pilot projects are opening up new opportunities for electric machines

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Kalmar will have an electric T2 in Europe next year
Kalmar will have an electric T2 in Europe next year

Equipment OEMs have reported strong demand for terminal tractors in the final months of 2018, to the extent that some factories are now under pressure to keep up. This month, Kalmar announced the completion of the 70,000th terminal tractor at its Ottawa plant in Kansas. The truck was completed on 27 February and presented to longstanding customer Penske Truck Leasing at a special event.


Kalmar’s 70,000th machine rolled off the line less than four years after the 60,000th machine was delivered in July 2015. OEMs do not disclose production figures, but demand was particularly strong in H2 2018, when port throughput spiked as importers tried to get ahead of further tariffs on Chinese imports, and the whole US supply chain came under pressure.


It appears that the rising tide has lifted all boats. In South Carolina, TICO Manufacturing, which claims to be “the world’s fastest growing terminal tractor manufacturer”, received a record number of new orders at its dealer meeting in Charleston in late-2018.


TICO said it presented its dealers with its “plan to handle the growing demand, as well as the schedule for new product introductions”, and they responded by ordering the record number of machines. The company declined to state exactly how many were ordered, but said: “Dealers blew away the previous record with their Pro-Spotters commitments for 2019. As a result, the TICO dealer network is poised to continue to respond to high demand for the industry-leading array of TICO products in 2019.”


The firm is continuing to build its dealer network, and announced three new dealer groups and eight new dealer authorised locations, including TNT Trailer Sales (Michigan), Nacarato Truck Center (Tennessee), and Deep South
Equipment (Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi).


Terberg for Halterm


Terberg continues to push into the US and Canada, and Terberg North America has just won Halterm’s latest order for terminal tractors for its facility in Halifax. Halterm is adding one STS crane (ZPMC) and two RTGs (Konecranes)
plus nine tractor/trailer sets from Terberg. The Terberg machines will be its YT222 4x2 tractors equipped with Cummins’ QSB Tier 4 final engine. They follow three YT units that Terberg delivered to Halterm in 2018. Terberg is building
a presence at Halifax, where it has both YT and RT tractors operating at other facilities, with local service and support provided through its distributor Cropac.


“Canada has become an important country for Terberg in the region,” said Ron van Arkel, Terberg’s VP for the Americas. “With our distributor network in place, we have great success in Canada. The after-sales service, combined with
quality of our units and increased driver comfort, is very much appreciated by the customers.”


This month, Kalmar announced an important move in electric terminal tractors, where it is partnering with Cummins to launch a fully electric version of its T2 4x2 tractor for the European market in 2020.

 

In a statement, the companies said: “Slated to be launched in 2020, the Kalmar electric terminal tractor will be equipped with a 107 kWh lithium-ion battery capable of DC fast-charge. This means that operators can take advantage
of opportunity charging during shift breaks. To maintain battery life, a thermal management system keeps it within the optimal temperature range, enabling the machine to operate in a range of climates. The Cummins driveline
solution eliminates the need for a transmission on a terminal tractor, simplifying the overall system and reducing maintenance needs.”


Kalmar added that the initial focus will be on its 4x2 product, with the 4x4 version to follow in 2021. “The battery packs are designed to be modular and scalable, and onboard capacity can be increased if deemed the optimal approach,” said Kalmar. With regard to the battery charging system, an automatic connection system will not be offered immediately, but Kalmar noted that “it is possible to expand the current charging platform to include automatic
connection capability”.

 

The move to offer an electric machine in Europe follows the launch of the T2 electric in the US last year. The US machine uses a drive system from TransPower, which is now also being used in other brand machines in the US.


Speaking with WorldCargo News, Gina Lopez, VP terminal tractors at Kalmar, said the firm has been working with TransPower for several years and has “tested and validated” its solution. Kalmar continues to develop its electric
offering and will utilise the latest technology as it evolves. “It is difficult to say, in two years time, what that will look like,” she added.


Kalmar opted to move ahead with TransPower in the US last year because it was the “quickest path to market”, and the technology that had gone through rigorous testing with Kalmar’s customers. TransPower has been involved with terminal tractors since 2012, and in 2017, axle and component specialist Meritor took a stake in the company.

 

Scaling up


Over the last 18 months, demand for electric tractors has increased in the US, almost exclusively due to the amount of grant funding available for zero-emissions machines, and pilot projects for this equipment at Los Angeles and
Long Beach in particular. Kalmar is involved in some of this work, with one electric T2 being supplied to LBCT in Long Beach.

 

Lopez said the launch of the electric T2 in the US generated enquiries from European customers who also want an electric option from Kalmar, and it then moved ahead with an RFP for a driveline supplier, selecting Cummins. Kalmar’s objective was to find a product suitable for global deployment, backed by a partner with the network and strength to support its technology. Large fleet owners are looking for this type of support before they make large commitments to electric machines, she added.


Tractor operators with large fleets are taking tentative steps with electric machines. Participating in grant funded pilots is one thing, but when it comes to purchasing large numbers for a fleet, customers are looking hard at performance, and asking for guarantees around duty cycle and battery time. Lopez said developments in battery chemistry and size recently have “changed the game” with regard to the power capacity that can be delivered within a footprint that can be accommodated on a terminal tractor. Furthermore, Kalmar has developed knowledge and experience around charging systems and how they can be optimised for a particular operation.


Together with its driveline OEMs, Kalmar can offer some guarantees on performance and lifecycle, but, at this stage, they are not as long as the ROI calculations on an electric machine that some customers are using. Over the next three to four years, however, the cost per kWh is expected to fall, at which point the ROI “starts to look really good”, and will be aligned with life expectancy guarantees, said Lopez.

 

Kalmar has committed to have a comprehensive electric product portfolio by 2021, and Lopez is confident that electric tractors will be an important part of that line-up.


Testing, testing...


In the US, the number of zeroemissions equipment pilot projects continues to open up opportunities for new suppliers. WorldCargo News has previously reported that a zero-emissions project at Pier C in Long Beach, funded through the CARB’s Sustainable Terminals Accelerating Regional Transformation (START) scheme, includes 33 zero-emissions tractors.


In October last year, the Port of Long Beach confirmed to WorldCargo News that the tractors would have TransPower drive systems. As subsequently reported by WorldCargo News Online, the tractors will be supplied by Mexico’s DINA, the former stateowned Diesel Nacional SA. It produces heavy-duty trucks, buses and speciality vehicles in Mexico, including its Hustler, or terminal tractor. SSA Marine, part of the Carrix group, operates Pier C, and Mexican entrepreneur Fernando Chico Pardo holds a 49% stake in Carrix’s parent holding company.

 

Another pilot project to test two electric tractors at LBCT in Long Beach features a CNHTC/ Sinotruk Hova tractor with a fuel cell system from Canada’s Loop Energy, and hydrogen supplied by Air Products. Adding to the mix, zero-emissions tests at Los Angeles now include terminal tractors from China’s BYD, and Capacity tractors with LNG engines. Last year, Capacity’s parent REV Group announced it will supply 20 Capacity TJ9000 terminal tractors for a project that is being funded by the California Energy Commission.

 

The tractors feature the Cummins L9N LNG engine, which is a “near zero” technology. REV Group is backing LNG, saying it is “more competitive in matching the duty cycles of a diesel-powered tractor compared to other alternative fuel solutions. This is important, as the time required for refuelling equals lost time, and therefore lost profitability, for the customer”.

 

The LNG machines will have a large, 127-gallon stainless-steel tank, which was designed for Capacity by Chart Industries, and has an expected service life of 25 years. “With a tank volume of 127 gallons, the LNG tractor is set to
exceed the total energy of Capacity’s standard 50-gallon diesel tank,” noted REV.

 

The LNG machine will be compared against battery tractors, and Capacity expects them to do well. “It is anticipated that the LNG units will fare well in competition due to the increased energy density, as electrical units will require refuelling (charging) more frequently. In addition, more time is required to perform a charge than to fill an LNG tank (~1 hour vs. ~10 minutes)”, REV stated.

 

H2Ports project


In Europe, Grimaldi Group and affiliate Valencia Terminal Europa (VTE) have joined the European project “H2Ports - Implementing Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Technologies in Ports”.


H2Ports held its first technical meeting in early February. Project cost is €4M. Like the earlier LNG-fuelled terminal tractor project, it is coordinated by Fundación Valenciaport in collaboration with the Port Authority of Valencia, again with EU backing. This time, the funding is coming from Europe’s Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) programme.

 

It remains to be seen whether the €4M budget leads to anything concrete. After the funding for the LNG tractor trials finished at Noatum Valencia, there was no follow-up in Valencia, where there is no permanent LNG infrastructure.


There is no hydrogen fuel infrastructure either, and a mobile hydrogen refuelling truck will be used to fuel the equipment at VTE and MSC container terminal, where a Hyster reach stacker will be involved in the trial.


At VTE, it is likely that a 4x4 ro-ro tractor from Terberg will be used, and it will have to be equipped with a fuel cell to comply with the demands of the project. Terberg says it will support the project accordingly, although it is not an official partner.

 

 

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