EXECUTIVE INTERVIEW: How CARB Is Fostering Innovation Across Commercial Transportation in California

November 5, 2019

An ACT News Executive Interview with Sydney Vergis, Assistant Division Chief, Mobile Source Control Division, California Air Resources Board (CARB), on how the state agency is working to drive change across the global transportation industry by fostering investment and innovation in California.

Through a variety of zero and near-zero emission, on- and off-road, advanced technology demonstration and pilot projects, CARB is accelerating both current and future technology applications towards commercialization. Specifically, the Volvo LIGHTS project, under CARB’s ZANZEFF project solicitation, demonstrates the viability for the widescale deployment of heavy-duty battery electric trucks in Southern California. The Volvo LIGHTS project goes beyond the vehicle technology alone and instead considers the entire ecosystem needed to support widescale commercial vehicle electrification. CARB’s ambitious ZANZEFF program zeroes in on demonstrating transformative emission reduction strategies that can be implemented throughout freight facilities across California.

ACT News caught up with Sydney to learn more about how CARB’s programs and projects, like Volvo LIGHTS, are bringing real air quality and climate benefits to California.

ACT News: The California Air Resources Board is charged with protecting California residents from the harmful effects of air pollution and developing programs and actions to fight climate change. Despite being a state agency, the programs that CARB has implemented are instrumental in driving innovation throughout the global automotive industry. How does this impact your planning?

Sydney Vergis: We consider the local and global benefits of California’s regulations and incentive programs. As other jurisdictions adopt California programs, those actions result in bringing the air quality and climate benefits to their communities, as well as helping to build up the supply chains associated with new, cleaner technologies, which also helps bring down costs. California cannot solve climate change on our own—regulations and incentives across national and sub-national governments are critical.

California cannot solve climate change on our own—regulations and incentives across national and sub-national governments are critical.

ACT News: Tell us about a recent program CARB has developed that you feel will be impactful in driving technology innovation and mitigating transportation emissions.

Sydney Vergis: On March 21, 2018, CARB released its $205 million Zero- and Near Zero-Emission Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) project solicitation. CARB’s goal under the ZANZEFF project solicitation was to support bold, transformative emission reduction strategies that can be emulated throughout freight facilities statewide. These projects will holistically reduce greenhouse gas, criteria pollutant, and toxic air contaminant emissions in and around freight facilities and provide economic, environmental, and public health benefits to disadvantaged and low-income communities.   As such, a wide variety of zero- and near zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles and off-road equipment, supporting fueling infrastructure, as well as other facility and efficiency improvements that reduce emissions facility-wide, were eligible for funding.

Eleven projects were selected for funding and awards were announced in October 2018.  Of those projects selected, both the Volvo LIGHTS and Frito-Lay Zero and Near-Zero projects highlight the ambitious goals of the project solicitation.

The Volvo LIGHTS project will create a zero-emission goods movement system from ports to freight handling facilities in disadvantaged communities.

The Volvo LIGHTS project, to be administered by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, will create a zero-emission goods movement system from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to freight handling facilities in disadvantaged communities. It will deploy pre-commercial and commercial zero-emission technologies, including the introduction of Volvo’s North American Class 8 battery electric truck. There will also be data collection, maintenance training, and outreach to encourage early adoption of these technologies.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has partnered with Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, to implement the “Frito-Lay Zero and Near-Zero Emission Project” in Modesto, California; a bold and transformative effort that will yield a showcase for economically and environmentally sustainable manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution. This project aims to completely replace the use of all diesel-powered freight equipment within one of Frito-Lay’s largest food production, warehouse and regional distribution facilities. This will be accomplished via the use of zero-emission technology everywhere feasible and near-zero emissions technology and renewable fuels everywhere else.

ACT News: Tell us more about the Volvo LIGHTS project. How will this demonstration project help to drive the successful commercialization of heavy-duty battery electric trucks for freight movement?

Sydney Vergis: There are more than 3.5 million diesel trucks on the road in the United States today, with a well-established network of fueling stations, service centers, and maintenance technicians to support them. As we consider the viability of widescale deployment of heavy-duty battery electric trucks, we need to think beyond “just” the truck technology and figure out how we can successfully establish the entire ecosystem needed. The Volvo LIGHTS project has been designed to do just that. As Volvo prepares its zero-emission truck technology for the North American market, it is collaborating with the other Volvo LIGHTS project partners on public and private infrastructure development, technician training, and a comprehensive sales and service network.

Vehicle demonstrations with local fleet operators will take place throughout 2020. Other local fleets will have the opportunity to do real-world trials through an electric truck leasing program which will be offered. Additionally, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will help evaluate the viability of electric trucks for drayage operations. Ultimately, the goal is to add Volvo’s commercial battery-electric heavy-duty trucks to the existing inventory of zero-emission vehicles already on the market.

ACT News: While multiple zero-emission heavy-duty vehicle projects are currently in a demonstration stage, the vehicles are not yet commercially available. Given that 90% of Californians live in cities and regions with unhealthy air, are there any promising technologies on the market that can enable California to tackle its air pollution issues today?

Targeting promising markets for pilot projects, where vehicles are deployed in large volumes, is accelerating the commercialization process while decreasing technology costs.

Sydney Vergis: CARB has an exciting portfolio of on- and off-road advanced technology demonstration and pilot projects. From fleets of dozens of battery electric drayage trucks to a fuel cell ferry, CARB is stocking the innovation pipeline with the technologies California needs now and into the future. These demonstration projects have been successful over the last several years in driving new technology applications toward commercialization. Targeting promising markets for pilot projects, where vehicles are deployed in large volumes, is accelerating the commercialization process while decreasing technology costs.

The result of this work is a large—and rapidly growing—selection of commercially available zero-emission buses, trucks, and off-road equipment. Nearly 100 zero-emission vehicles including Class 7 and 8 offerings are eligible for funding under our commercial on-road incentive project, HVIP, with many other commercial zero-emission technologies expected to be eligible for our Clean Off-Road Equipment (CORE) project. Through HVIP and CORE, we’re continuing to support an array of early commercial technologies, with more than 7,000 vouchers issued to date for zero-emission, hybrid, and low-NOx vehicles. The majority of those are in disadvantaged communities. It’s been rewarding to see the success of our approach to technology commercialization and we’re excited to see even more companies, vehicles, and equipment types become commercially available.

ACT News: What is one of the major initiatives on the horizon for CARB that will impact the commercial transportation sector?

The proposed ACT Regulation is part of a holistic approach to accelerate a large-scale transition of zero-emission medium-and heavy-duty vehicles.

Sydney Vergis: The proposed Advanced Clean Truck Regulation is part of a holistic approach to accelerate a large-scale transition of zero-emission medium-and heavy-duty vehicles from Class 2B to Class 8. The current proposal has two parts—a manufacturer ZEV sales mandate and a one-time large entity reporting requirement to collect information needed for developing future ZEV fleet rules. With more than 70 different models of zero-emission vans, trucks, and buses that are commercially available from several manufacturers, CARB is focused on continuing to stimulate the growth of the zero-emission sector. The proposed rule will decrease NOx, PM, and GHG emissions as well as local exposure to criteria pollutants from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

The current proposal has two parts – a manufacturer ZEV sales mandate and a one-time large entity reporting requirement to collect information needed for developing future ZEV fleet rules.  Manufacturers who certify Class 2B-8 chassis or complete vehicles with combustion engines would be required to sell zero-emission trucks as an increasing percentage of their annual California sales from 2024 to 2030. Many of the vehicles that are affected by the Advanced Clean Truck Regulation will be supported by the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) which provides point-of-sale rebates to offset the upfront cost of advanced technologies.

What advice would you offer young professionals interested in a career path similar to yours?

Sydney Vergis: Technical writing and the ability to communicate technical issues to policymakers are invaluable skills. The background that comes with an interdisciplinary degree and experience helps you write better policy that balances important factors (e.g., technology status, economics, market impacts, public health, etc.).