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Coming soon curbside: Electric garbage truck

Electric garbage trucks may roll down our streets soon thanks to an innovative partnership between the Ratto Group and Wrightspeed, a company created by Tesla co-founder, Ian Wright. The ground-breaking project demonstrates the power of clean energy's benefit to the environment and to a company's bottom line.

In layman language, the electric trucks run on 100 percent turbine-charged batteries with computers which tell the turbines when to recharge. Wright's website defines this technology as a '...range-extended electric powertrain which generates electricity from braking and an onboard turbine and stores extra energy from the grid in a battery.'

'The benefits of this technology are tremendous,' said Lou Ratto, chief operating officer. 'Because the on-board turbine burns cleaner than any other motor, our company could see up to a 90 percent reduction in pollution.'

The turbine which runs on liquid natural gas is only used for recharging batteries. And, because this technology can be installed in exisiting vehicles, the Ratto Group predicts signigicant savings in resources and energy. 'We're all about recycling,' said Mr. Ratto, 'and reusing our trucks is the ultimate recycling.'

Finally, the trucks will be much quieter, in part because of regenerative braking where hydraulic pressure builds up so the trucks don't have to accelerate as they do now.

What hasn't been decided yet is how the initial charge each day will occur. Options are a charging station, a solar array to be built on site, or charging on the turbine. If the trucks are charged on the turbines, the company will still see a 50 to 70 percent reduction of pollutants.

The partnership began about a year ago when Lou's father Jim read an article in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle. Although Wright was already working with FedEx, he wanted to develop his technology for garbage trucks because of the number of trucks on the road, the pollutants they emit, and their dismal gas mileage. As Wright explains on his website, Wrightspeed.com, electric vehicle technology is expensive when one compares its cost to the fuel dollars saved in a passenger car. But the payback on investment for garbage trucks is significant.

The Rattos called Wrightspeed and the partnership was formed. The company should take delivery of its prototype in late December, and put it through its paces for 60 to 90 days. Their contract with Wrightspeed is tiered and, if everything goes as expected, their entire fleet of trucks should be electric within two years.

'We're hoping to change the face of the trucking industry,' said Mr.Ratto, 'and at the same time, improve the air quality for our customers while saving significant resources.'

And, it should be added, this technology will put Sonoma County on the map once again as a seat of innovation and environmental responsibility.

Jane Bender is the board president of the Center for Climate Protection

Originally published Dec. 29, 2014.

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