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Exclusive: Meeting the demand for electric vehicles

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Environmental challenges are driving demand for electric vehicles writes Lisa Barwick, VP of Marketing for Pierce Manufacturing  

With the announcement of Pierce Manufacturing and Oshkosh Airport Products’ development of the Volterra platform of electric vehicles for the fire and emergency market, there have been questions about the demand for the technology, why it is critical, how it works and how it supports the environmental initiatives for municipalities and airports.    

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, cities around the world are taking increased responsibility for pollution, climate change and green economic growth. As municipalities grapple with these challenges, several key indicators are helping to drive change, including evolving regulations, environmental initiatives, and cost-saving opportunities.  

Changing Regulations and Legislation  

Cities and local governments are developing clean vehicle policies to reduce greenhouse gases, improve air quality, and increase sustainability. Over 170 cities in the U.S. have goals to power their communities with 100% clean, renewable energy. Increasingly, cities are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to solve environmental issues. In the U.S., The Clean Air Act (CAA) requires every engine and motor vehicle to meet a set of emission standards and conformity requirements. All of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) emission regulations specify test procedures to measure engine or vehicle emission levels, including fire trucks.  

With increasing demand to meet environmental goals, cities are seeking ways to reduce emissions and the carbon footprint of communities. Electric fire trucks, like the Pierce Volterra electric pumper, provide municipalities with a sustainable solution to help meet local and state legislative requirements.  

Environmental Initiatives  

In addition to meeting legislative requirements, municipalities are also demanding electric vehicles to meet more broad environmental goals. Emissions from vehicles contribute to about one-third of all U.S. air pollution. Choosing electric vehicles for municipal fleets sets a standard for excellence with a focus on improving overall community health. By making the decision to support electric fleet vehicles, municipalities are leading the charge for citizens to follow suit.  

When it comes to transportation planning, municipalities have a lot of decision-making power. Environmentally focused initiatives can regulate taxis and ridesharing programs and include plans to purchase electric vehicles for large municipal fleets. Moreover, municipalities can develop the required charging infrastructure to support electric vehicles.  

When a municipality chooses to purchase an electric fire truck, it helps to normalise new technology and set a standard for environmental sustainability. The overall growth of electric vehicle use in municipalities supports reduced emissions and environmental initiatives.  

Cost-Savings  

Transportation fleets represent a major source of fuel consumption and can cause a detrimental environmental impact. The adoption of electric vehicles can help cut both fuel costs and the negative impacts of fuel consumption. Electric fire trucks require less maintenance because the main source of power is not the internal combustion engine. The chassis operates under electric power in all normal operational situations and leverages the internal combustion engine only for backup power in extended emergency operations. As a result, there is less wear and tear on the engine. With fewer maintenance requirements, municipalities and fleet management can anticipate savings on preventive maintenance and ongoing engine repairs.  

First Electric Municipal Fire Truck Now in Service in North America  

Oshkosh Corporation, Pierce Manufacturing’s parent company, has been developing electric drives and vehicles for over 25 years. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) recently selected Oshkosh Defense to build and deliver between 50,000 and 165,000 vehicles over the next ten years. Both zero-emission battery electric vehicles (BEV) and fuel-efficient low-emission internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles will be provided, with the option of producing any combination of models, including a 100% electric fleet, if specified by the USPS.  

With that proven technology as a foundation, the development of the Volterra Platform of Electric Vehicles was driven by listening to the vision of customers. As the development of an electric fire truck was in progress, Pierce approached the City of Madison, Wisconsin, to discuss the opportunity to partner on technology advancements for fire apparatus that aligned with the City’s Climate Forward initiative. The City of Madison has been a pioneer in adopting new technologies to minimise its carbon footprint and has been purchasing fire apparatus from Pierce Manufacturing for many years.  

The Volterra Platform is the first zero-emissions electric fire truck in service in North America and is equipped with a 155 kW Battery pack to meet the City of Madison’s daily duty cycle. The battery system allows for flexibility in sizing so Pierce can customise the solution to meet various department’s needs, and the operational range has been tailored to the City of Madison’s needs and is designed for a minimum of a full-shift operation.  

The electric drive is extremely powerful and emission-free. The fire truck also features significantly reduces noise emissions which makes crew communication easier and benefits residents. The electric drive train only uses fuel when the electrical system is fully depleted. While in electric mode, there is no diesel fuel consumed.  

The electric fire truck technology consists of a patented parallel-electric drive train featuring an electro-mechanical infinitely variable transmission which allows zero-emissions operation when powered by the integrated onboard batteries, and can be coupled to the internal combustion engine to provide continuous and uninterrupted power to the pumping system or drive system.  

Pierce is continuing the final development, evaluation, and on-highway certification process for their electric vehicle technology. Having this vehicle in service in the City of Madison’s busiest fire station allows Pierce to closely monitor operator feedback and opportunities for further vehicle enhancements.  

Advancements in Hybrid Electric Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting Vehicles   

In addition to Pierce’s Volterra electric pumper, the Striker®Volterra performance hybrid Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) vehicle is also making its debut across the U.S. The Striker Volterra is a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) that has been developed to meet the growing emergency response and environmentally conscious needs among airports of all sizes.  

Available on the 4×4 and 6×6 chassis platforms, the Striker Volterra performance hybrid offers the highest caliber chassis performance, advanced safety systems, innovative fire suppression technology, and superior reliability and durability. The vehicle has an Oshkosh patented hybrid-electric drivetrain that features an electro-mechanical infinitely variable transmission that allows zero-emissions operation when powered by the integrated onboard batteries and can be coupled to the internal combustion engine to provide continuous and uninterrupted power to the pumping system or drive system. The Striker Volterra can achieve 28% improved acceleration when fully loaded, resulting in a quickened response time. The vehicle also comes with idle reduction for up to one hour of zero-emissions standby using onboard energy storage, zero-emission driving during entry and exit of the fire station using onboard energy storage and also has available Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) options. 

Pierce Manufacturing and Oshkosh Airport Products have been known leaders in fire apparatus technology for more than 100 years. The push for green technology was fueled from within the organisation as it began to focus on more environmental sustainability manufacturing and in reaction to global shifts in green-powered energy requirements.  

With the introduction of the Volterra platform of electric vehicles, Pierce and Oshkosh Airport Products are proud to meet the needs of fire departments while providing advanced technology designed to support environmentally conscious initiatives.  

This article was originally published in issue 6 of International Fire and Safety Journal