Biofuels Chicago gets first all electric garbage trucks

Published on November 19th, 2012 | by Tina Casey


All-Electric Garbage Trucks Prove EVs Can Pull Their Own Weight

November 19th, 2012 by  

If you ever had any doubt that electric vehicles are officially part of the American mainstream, check out Chicago’s new all-electric garbage trucks. Seriously, not too many vehicles are as essential to the daily commerce of a modern industrialized nation as a garbage truck, so what better way to prove that electric vehicles can work just as hard as their diesel counterparts? And cheaper, too.

According to the brains behind the new truck, Bay Area startup Motiv Power Systems, the new trucks will cut fuel costs and also reduce other operating costs.

Chicago gets first all electric garbage trucks

Why an Electric Garbage Truck is Like a Canary

Last year, the inimitable Rush Limbaugh and other conservative “thought leaders” expended a lot of air time on a campaign to trash the Chevy Volt, creating the impression that EVs are at best expensive toys for the well-to-do and at worst hothouse flowers that wilt under pressure.

Well, there’s nothing like a 52,000-pound garbage truck to prove that all-electric vehicles can pack as much good old fashioned American horsepower as anything else on the road.

As the vehicular counterpart to the proverbial canary in the coal mine, if EV technology can survive a full garbage route on the streets of Chicago and come back for more, that’s a good indication that EVs can handle pretty much anything else the road throws at them.


America’s First All-Electric Garbage Trucks

Motiv believes that Chicago will be the first city in the nation to get a fleet of all-electric garbage trucks. The up to $13.4 million, five-year contract will put 20 electric trucks to the test alongside the city’s existing fleet of 600.

Before settling on the EV technology, Chicago field-tested a hybrid electric garbage truck and also considered a compressed natural gas truck, but neither proved to be cost-effective.

Motiv won out based on the performance of a pilot all-electric bus that it’s been running in California since last March (not to be confused with Utah’s wireless electric bus). The bus uses five battery packs and the trucks will use the same system, but scaled up to 10 battery packs, enough to power the drive train and the hydraulic system.

Motiv’s pilot bus reduced operating costs from 80 cents per mile down to 10 cents per mile, which could translate into an operating cost savings of up to 50% over eight years.

From Electric Bus to Electric Truck

Scalability is the key to Motiv’s system, with it calls ePCS (for electric Powertrain Control System).

The ePCS consists of packs of off-the-shelf batteries and motors, which Motiv configures in different pairings to match the size of a conventional chassis.

One advantage of the mix-and-match approach is that the ePCS powertrain is not tied to any one particular battery. As new battery technology emerges, fleet owners can upgrade their batteries.

The ePCS batteries also work in concert with sensory and diagnostic systems that can ease the load on individual batteries to prevent wear and tear, and  predict maintenance issues before they affect the vehicle’s performance.

For the new trucks, Motiv’s partner Detroit Chassis will provide the chassis and Loadmaster will chip in with the bodies.

Image (cropped): Courtesy of Motiv via

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Matt

    This is a great innovation. Now all we need is for the electricity to come from the garbage that the trucks collect in order to move towards a more closed-loop system.

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