A time may arrive when late-night rumblings of diesel-powered street fleets come to an end.
At least that’s what Bill Lamkin, a Vancouver Public Works operator of 15 years, imagined after hopping out of an all-electric street sweeper during a demo Tuesday morning.
“From a distance, it sounds like air,” he said, describing that the only noise it generated — before sweeping — came from its sturdy hydraulic motors. “That’s a big bonus.”
A crew of more than a dozen city workers collected around the pristine white and green vehicle, Global Environment Products’ M4EV electric plug-in street sweeper.
Jim Budde, who led the sales pitch, said the sweeper is the first of its kind and parallels its diesel counterpart’s capabilities — and then some.
Above all else, he said, the sweeper’s zero-emission technology will be instrumental in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Both the environment and humans’ lungs will experience reprieve from air dirtied with diesel exhaust pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide and cancer-causing particulates.
In Washington, the transportation sector generates roughly 22 percent of total air pollution, according to the Department of Ecology. Vancouver’s on-road vehicles and off-road equipment contribute around 38 percent to the area’s overall emissions.
Budde said the absence of a diesel engine and a diesel particulate filter — or a system to trap soot from escaping into the air — lowers maintenance costs. With a full battery charge, the sweeper can operate for up to 11 hours and has enough power to suck up 3 tons of debris in a minute. It would be sufficient to cover one shift.
This piece of equipment is just one example of how medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will become zero-emission in the future, as all-electric public buses, garbage trucks and utility vehicles are beginning to appear across the country.
The city of Vancouver uses four street sweeping units on a routine basis. Brook Porter, Public Works communication specialist, said the department anticipates future vehicles and replacements to be electric, hybrid or using alternative fuel per its Climate Action Framework.
The zero-emission vehicles cost upwards of $700,000 — about double the price for diesel sweepers. Grants may become available as electrification initiatives become more prevalent statewide and nationally.
To date, cities in California, Montana, New York, Oregon and Washington D.C. have incorporated Global Environment Products’ sweeper equipment into municipal fleets.
Though the electric vehicles come with appealing characteristics, Lamkin questioned how it would stand up over time, especially considering they are the most “maintenance-intensive” of all fleet vehicles. Will there be hydraulic issues? How long would the batteries — presented to have a five-year lifespan — actually last? Other workers wondered how the batteries would perform in cold weather.
“(It has) promising potential,” Lamkin said. “It’s encouraging.”
An inevitable change
In March 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill directing the Department of Ecology to adopt the Advanced Clean Truck rule, effectively requiring truck manufacturers to substantially increase clean, zero-emission vehicle sales beginning with 2025 model years. Ecology formally adopted the California-based policy in November 2021 through the passage of Washington’s Zero Emission Vehicles bill.
Washington later expanded its rule in 2022, declaring all passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty vehicles must be zero-emission beginning in 2035. The update also required medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to have cleaner burning engines.
Though zero-emission trucks are eagerly being pushed into the market, some in the industry present a few drawbacks: limited production, a high price tag and uncertainty surrounding future infrastructure to support the electric switch.
A Washington Trucking Association representative said that, although the organization is supportive of “clean diesel technology,” the state isn’t equipped for a substantial adoption of zero-emission heavy-duty trucks, as reported by Heavy Duty Trucking.
But groups continue to spearhead efforts advocating for the transition to cleaner fleets.
In February, a cadre of climate organizations, trucking unions and various businesses wrote to Washington representatives, urging them to invest $250 million in zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in its upcoming biennium.
“The Governor’s budget included investments in zero-emission (medium- and heavy-duty) vehicle grants and projects,” they wrote, “but unfortunately these investments are not on par with the scale of investment analysis shows we need to meet our climate targets, all while supporting businesses and drivers and providing direct benefits to Washingtonians, particularly those in overburdened communities.”
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