Leading the Charge: Revolutionizing Port Logistics with Automated Charging for Electric Vehicles

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A port in Southern California is set to become home to the USA’s largest automated charging system for electric port vehicles.1 The port terminal’s transport system, which consists of 33 diesel-powered tractors, is being transformed: each tractor will be modified to use fully electric motors rather than diesel engines. Plans to implement fully automated charging stations in the port will allow these vehicles to be charged rapidly and in an environmentally friendly way.

It’s well-established that electrical vehicles can offer substantial reductions in cost and air pollution over their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts.2 Not only do electric drivetrains offer increased energy efficiency, but drawing power from the electrical grid rather than oil reserves means that they are able to use energy generated by renewable sources. For example in France, which generates 75% of its electricity from nuclear plants, electric vehicles boast correspondingly low rates of emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.3

Two key metrics show a clear imperative to transition to electric vehicles: First, renewable energy accounts for 17% of the USA’s energy production and only 11% of its consumption.4 Second, the transport of passengers and goods uses around 25% of the world’s energy production, and almost all of this energy is produced using fossil fuels.5 Replacing gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles with electric vehicles is, therefore, one of the most effective ways of integrating renewable power into modern infrastructure; facilitating a future where renewable energy meets the world’s energy requirements.

The port terminal in Southern California is leading the charge in partnership with Stäubli, a leading manufacturer of electrical connectors and fast-charging solutions. This comes as part of the port’s ongoing effort to improve air quality, having already reduced diesel emissions by 87% since 2005, despite a considerable increase in port throughput. Fitting 33 terminal tractors with electric drivetrains and installing fully automated charging systems will improve efficiency, reduce costs and emissions both at the port and globally.

Port transport vehicles are the perfect place to implement this technology: one of the primary barriers preventing the widespread adoption of electric vehicles is the need for regular charging. But this isn’t a problem for vehicles which are scheduled to stop working at specific times and are housed in designated spaces; such as vehicles used in public transport, mining, and fulfilment/distribution centres.6,7,8 The terminal tractors at the Southern Californian port can be automatically charged during this downtime where they would otherwise be idle – this improves their overall equipment effectiveness compared to diesel-powered tractors which require manual refueling.

The port follows in the footsteps of other port operators which have adopted electric vehicles: the Port of Barcelona, for example, invested €926,000 in electric mobility in 2017.9 The project was made possible thanks to a $50 million grant obtained from the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Zero and Near Zero Emission Freight Facility (ZANZEFF) program.

Fast-Charging Connectors and Automated Charging Systems for Industrial Transport

Any efficiency issues relating to charge time are eliminated by the use of fast-charging connectors capable of extremely high rates of energy transfer. The port’s fleet will be fitted with 175kW DC chargers, which will enable each of the 33 electric tractors to be charged rapidly, simultaneously, and automatically. Crucial to the design of each of these chargers is the use of a Quick Charging Connector (QCC) developed by Swiss connector innovators Stäubli.

Stäubli’s QCCs are specially developed to facilitate automatic charging of vehicles, which is achieved by the application of several innovative technologies. Chief among these is the use of Stäubli’s proprietary low-resistance MULTILAM technology. Connectors house multiple spring-loaded contacts, which make multiple well-defined points of contact with the socket, permitting extraordinarily high current densities: these are capable in principle of transmitting over 6,000 Amps through a single connector. This permits very fast charging, reducing the dependence of vehicles on charging stops and allowing them to be routed more freely.

Despite their high current-carrying capacity, Stäubli QCCs are completely touch-safe thanks to an absence of exposed terminals. The connectors are designed for automatic connection via robotic arm: built with a high tolerance to angular and translational misalignment, a physically and electrically robust connection is guaranteed every time. This eliminates the possibility of electrical arcing, poor charge rates, or damage to the vehicle or connectors. In addition, self-cleaning technology ensures the longevity of the connectors: connectors are tested to over 100,000 mating cycles for reliable operation.

The introduction of the electric tractors and chargers will make the port a near-zero emissions environment; drastically reducing diesel fuel emissions and noise pollution and making the port a safer and more pleasant place to work.

 “We are demonstrating the possibilities for the future of sustainable transportation and shipping by outfitting the port with Stäubli’s QCC system,” said Christian España, Sales and Marketing Manager at Stäubli Electrical Connectors. “We are proud to partner on a charger that will make the job of port operators safer, easier and more efficient; while also creating a healthier work environment.”

References and Further Reading

  1. Stäubli teams up for automated charging of electrical vehicles in port logistics. Available at: https://www.staubli.com. (Accessed: 13th November 2019)
  2. Revealed: a guide to the cost of electric cars | OVO Energy. Available at: https://www.ovoenergy.com/guides/electric-cars/cost-of-electric-cars.html. (Accessed: 10th June 2018)
  3. Nuclear Power in France | French Nuclear Energy - World Nuclear Association. Available at: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/france.aspx. (Accessed: 10th June 2018)
  4. How much of U.S. energy consumption and electricity generation comes from renewable energy sources? - FAQ - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Available at: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=92&t=4. (Accessed: 13th November 2019)
  5. EIA. Transportation sector energy consumption Figure 8-1. Delivered transportation energy consumption by country grouping, 2012-40 (quadrillion Btu).
  6. Electric vehicles for mining will be a $9 billion market in 2028 | IDTechEx Research Article. Available at: https://www.idtechex.com/research/articles/electric-vehicles-for-mining-will-be-a-9-billion-market-in-2028-00014214.asp. (Accessed: 3rd July 2018)
  7. Electric Buses Are Hurting the Oil Industry - Bloomberg. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-23/electric-buses-are-hurting-the-oil-industry. (Accessed: 3rd July 2018)
  8. Automatic Fast Charging of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). Available at: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=15531. (Accessed: 13th November 2019)
  9. GreenPort | Barcelona gets behind the use of electric vehicles. Available at: http://www.greenport.com/news101/energy-and-technology/barcelona-gets-behind-the-use-of-electric-vehicles. (Accessed: 3rd July 2018)

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