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Napa freight carrier Biagi Bros. tests all-electric heavy truck to haul bottled wine

Encouraged by beverage producer clients to shift environmentally friendly initiatives into higher gear, Napa-based trucking and warehousing company Biagi Bros. hit the road this year with an even greener addition to its 'Green Machine' fleet of diesel heavy rigs.

Not only is this 2019 Peterbilt model 579 class 8 truck tractor carrying the green Biagi Bros. company colors, but also it has something quite different under the hood and on the chassis. In place of the diesel engine are control systems for the ElecTruck electric drive system by Escondido-based TransPower, and instead of fuel tanks on the side between the wheels are banks of batteries.

After four years of off-and-on talks, TransPower and Biagi Bros. earlier this year worked out a lease agreement where the carrier would validate the truck for at least a year under normal freight conditions, according to Gregg Stumbaugh, corporate equipment director for Biagi. Equipment validation includes collecting metrics on performance of a prototype and challenges encountered and resolved.

The TransPower-driven Peterbilt tractor arrived in Napa in the spring. After working out details such as charging schedule, driver rotation and load selection, the truck went into service each workday this fall.

'A lot of it is driven by our customers that are large wineries — Treasury (Wine Estates) and Constellation (Brands),' Stumbaugh said. 'And then we do a lot of business nationwide with Anheuser-Busch, and they're very active in green initiatives.'

WINE COMPANY CUTS EMISSIONS

Australia-based Treasury Wine Estates' North Coast brand portfolio includes Beaulieu Vineyard, Beringer Vineyard, Stags' Leap Winery and Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley, Acacia Vineyard in Carneros, and Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma Valley. The company's corporate responsibility program includes pledging support to the Porto Protocol to fight climate change impact and reducing carbon emissions, reported in its 2019 sustainability report to be down 11.9% overall.

That program has led Treasury to look for long-term sustainability value by investing in technology such as electric vehicle fleets, according to Elton Ferreira, director of packaging operations and logistics for the Americas group of the company.

'Partnering with Biagi Bros. has allowed TWE the opportunity to trial an electric truck that currently runs between our Sonoma Bottling Center and Biagi Warehouses in Napa,' Ferreira wrote in an email.

ELECTRIC IS HEAVIER

One of the issues Biagi has had to work out in the rampup of the validation route between Treasury's Eighth Street East bottling center and Napa is weight of the rig, Stumbaugh said.

'The more batteries, the more the truck weighs, and we're very weight-conscious,' he said.

Biagi's customers look for the carrier to be able to haul as close to 50,000 pounds of cargo as possible. Conventional class 8 diesel truck tractors currently weigh 16,000–16,500 pounds in operation, but the Peterbilt-TransPower truck Biagi is validating is 19,500 pounds. California's current gross combined vehicle weight limit for class 8 trucks and loaded trailers on the road is 80,000 pounds, but legislation is pending in Sacramento to up that for electric trucks to 82,000 pounds.

'So depending on what you're hauling, it could mean that you have to take a couple of pallets (of wine) off,' Stumbaugh said. 'Not a lot of customers are going to want to pay more.'

The truck has a range of 110 miles with the grade and hauling conditions between Sonoma and Napa, so Biagi can get about four round trips each day before the rig needs a recharge. That range could be extended by adding back two battery packs to the six currently in use, but that would further reduce the payload the truck could carry, Stumbaugh said. Each battery is the size of what goes into a Nissan Leaf electric sedan.

'In my opinion, the real game-changer for true 100% electric trucks is going to be the battery technology,' he said.

SMASHING THROUGH THE BATTERY BOUNDARY

The batteries plus inverter, electric motors and transmission make TransPower-fitted rigs 4,000–6,000 pounds heavier than traditional class 8 trucks and 1,000–2,000 pounds heavier than class 6 medium-duty trucks, depending on whether the 110-, 130- or 150-mile range configurations of energy storage are selected, according to Joshua Goldman, vice president for sales and marketing.

The company is working on next-generation technology that will offer 250-mile battery range and one-hour charging.

TransPower got its start repowering six box trucks. More recently, the company has produced three electric kits for Peterbilt model 520 medium-duty garbage trucks and is making 15 more kits for model 579 heavy trucks for next year. The first 10 are like Biagi's test truck and the rest will be what's said to be the nation's first three-axle electric trucks.

Biagi has a fleet of 270 trucks at its terminals spread across the country, but 85% of the fleet is in California. From its Napa and Benicia terminals, the company operates 105 trucks.

GREENING THE FLEET

Since 2006, Biagi has been undertaking a costly transition of its fleet to meet ever-higher standards set for diesel engines from the California Air Resources Board, rotating trucks with older engines to terminals in other states.

Also, 80% of the company's warehouse forklifts are electric, including all that operate in wine warehouses.

The transition has been helpful for the company, because on Jan. 1, the Department of Motor Vehicles will stop registering heavy trucks that aren't compliant with CARB's standards for big diesel engines on the road, that means a truck model year older than 2000 must meet the standards as of next year, model year 2001 in 2021, model year 2006 in 2022 and model year 2008 in 2023.

And that registration requirement comes along with the newly enacted Assembly Bill 5 limits on use of independent contractors, such as owner-operators of trucks that haul for Biagi and other freight carriers.

ZERO-EMISSION BREWERY

Biagi's previous integration of cleaner-emissions vehicles has intersected with the movement of beverage clients to greener tech and of heavy vehicle manufacturers into the alternative energy arena. One of Biagi's terminals is in St. Louis, based at Anheuser-Busch's iconic Budweiser brewery.

The company footed much of the acquisition and maintenance cost to convert its carrier vendors to compressed natural gas trucks years ago. Fifteen of Biagi's trucks and 150 of JB Hunt's vehicles there operate on methane sourced from a local landfill.

But that brewery is also where Arizona-based Nikola Motors and California-based BYD Motors rolled out last month long-haul hydrogen fuel cell and short-range all-electric class 8 trucks, respectively. It's the first of 800 fuel cell semis the beverage company ordered from Nikola for national operations and 21 electric rigs from BYD mostly for Southern California.

The attraction of fuel cells, which convert hydrogen gas to electric power, is faster refueling (under 30 minutes) than a pure recharge and longer range (over 200-300 miles).

Stockton-based Yandell Truckaway, a regional short-haul carrier for the wine business with a North Bay terminal in Benicia, has reservations for 10 of the 300-mile-range version Tesla Motors' all-electric class 8 tractors, according to Vice President Alicia Yandell Hamilton. At this point, delivery is expected in 2021.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Contact him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

Update, Dec. 12, 2019: The DMV rules for registering CARB-compliant heavy trucks was amplified with more specific information about which truck model years will start being required to comply with state diesel-emissions standards. And details about Yandell Truckaway's reservation of Tesla Motors class 8 trucks was added.

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