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Clean technology helps boost energy savings of trash trucks

Garbage trucks are among the dirtiest trucks cities have.

The more refuse they clean from the streets, the more pollution they may add to the atmosphere.

One possible solution for reducing this pollution was at the WasteExpo, a waste management and recycling conference held Tuesday through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Mack Trucks, a North Carolina-based manufacturing company, paired one of its trucks with a powertrain built by Wrightspeed, a company started by Tesla co-founder Ian Wright.

Wright describes a powertrain as the parts of a vehicle that make it move, such as the engine, electric motors and range extender.

The Route 1000 Powertrain Electric Drive System is built with garbage trucks in mind. Because garbage trucks use brakes extensively, Wrightspeed added a regenerative braking system to reduce wear and extend brakes’ life. Other energy-saving features include 24 miles of range on storage batteries, LED lighting, a battery cooling system and a Fulcrum Turbine Generator that can burn diesel or natural gas to extend the driving range.

Wright said garbage trucks can become up to 700 pounds lighter, depending on the size of the battery pack, with an efficient power train. Wrightspeed engineer Nicholas Liotta said garbage trucks also become quieter and cleaner than their conventional diesel engine counterparts, because they don’t require their engine turbines to be on as much.

After leaving Tesla to start Wrightspeed, Wright said that he saw potential in powering commercial trucks with alternative energy sources. Powertrains can be applied and fitted to other large vehicles like transit buses and delivery trucks. Shipping giant FedEx Corp. was among Wrightspeed’s first powertrain customers, but Wright says the refuse industry is probably where the company should have started.

“The (carbon) emission can go down in some cases by 90 percent,” Wright said in a phone interview. “I think it’s a wonderful application of clean technology.”

Christopher Kittel, director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said more electric-powered commercial trucks in cities could reduce the carbon emissions produced by these types of vehicles by 25 percent to 50 percent over time.

INFORM, a research group focused on the environmental impact of business and technology, lists average diesel-powered garbage trucks’ cost at more than $170,000. Although the powertrain is a hefty investment, Wright estimates that it pays for itself in three to four years with the money saved from fuel, up 67 percent less consumption, and $25,000 in maintenance-cost savings.

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