Chicago Makes a Dirty Job Cleaner With All-Electric Garbage Truck

You pay hard earned taxes towards their upkeep, rely on them to take your kerbside offerings away every week, and probably curse their clattering, smoke-spewing arrival if you live in a neighbourhood where their arrival happens while you’re still trying to sleep.

Chicago's new trash truck isn't a noisy, smelly one. It's an all-electric, environmentally friendly model

Chicago’s new trash truck isn’t a noisy, smelly one. It’s an all-electric, environmentally friendly model. (Image: Motiv Power)

But in the city of Chicago, a silent transformation is taking place among the City’s garbage truck fleet. A transformation which trades the rumbling diesel engine trash trucks that are synonymous with early morning city life with super-quiet all-electric ones made by Californian company Motiv Power Systems.

Based on the west side of the San Francisco Bay in Foster City, Motiv Power Systems is a specialist electric commercial vehicle conversion company that takes gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles and gives them a fully electric makeover.

In addition to offering all-electric school busses, an all-electric shuttle bus (for airport and limousine duty) and an all-electric Ford F-450 chassis, the company has developed an all-electric conversion of the humble trash truck specifically to the City of Chicago’s specifications.

That means being able to travel a 60 mile route without needing a recharge, carrying a payload of 9 tons, and having an on-board compactor capable of providing 1,000 pounds per cubic yard of compaction. If built to these specifications, the trucks could be used on any refuse route in the city, from Morgan Park in the south to Albany Park in the north.

In order to satisfy these requirements, Motive Power Systems had to design the Electric Refuse Vehicle (ERV) from scratch to include a 200 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, split over ten individual modules. Designed to run all year round, the ERV can be recharged from a special fast charger from empty to full in 8 hours, which we think represents a maximum charge rate somewhere between 25 and 35 kilowatt, accounting for a lower charge rate as the battery pack fills up.

The trucks can travel 60 miles per charge and carry up to 9 tons of trash.

The trucks can travel 60 miles per charge and carry up to 9 tons of trash.

Originally ordered by the City of Chicago in 2012 as part of a five-year contract to build and supply up to twenty electric refuse trucks to the city fleet, the ERV has taken Motive Power Systems two years to refine, test and prepare for a tough inner city life.

Taking the same base model already in use in gasoline form within Chicago — a crane carrier chassis and Loadmaster 20 rear loader body —  the firm delivered the first ERV to the City of Chicago earlier this year for initial testing. With this complete, the plug-in garbage truck is ready to enter service, and will even be offering public rides in the ERV at the CALSTART High-Efficiency Truck Users Forum on September 23 in Chicago.

“We are constantly looking to modernize and improve the City’s fleet operations through environmentally conscious choices,” said David Reynolds, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Fleet and Facility Management. “The City in a Garden is proud to be home to North America’s first all-electric refuse and recycling truck, and we look forward to examining how this truck can boost efficiency, reduce emissions and save tax payer dollars in the future.”

As well as making morning routes quieter for Chicago residents, each truck will save an estimated 2,688 gallons of fuel every year, along with 23 tons of carbon dioxide. Multiply that by each of the potential 20 vehicles which could enter into service, and that amounts to more than 53,760 gallons of saved fuel, and a massive 460 ton cut in CO2.

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