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FedEx Delivers On Green Goals With Electric Trucks

Those ubiquitous white, blue and orange FedEx delivery trucks are getting greener.

On Wednesday, the first of nine electric trucks were set to roll out of a FedEx distribution center in Silicon Valley. By year’s end 34 of the $150,000 Navistar E-Star lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles will be dispatched throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, joining 53 other electric trucks in cities across the U.S. FedEx is also rolling out electric trucks in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Berlin and Florence.

“It’s a sizable investment,” Keshav Sondhi, manager of FedEx’s asset management group for global vehicles, said Tuesday at FedEx’s cavernous Menlo Park facility where nine of the futuristic E-Star trucks were lined up.

The deployment of electric trucks is part of an initiative to increase the fuel economy of FedEx’s 40,000-vehicle fleet by 20% over a baseline set in 2005. To date, FedEx has achieved a 16.6% improvement.

“First, we’re trying to reduce the number of vehicles we need through route optimization – so more stops per mile,” says Mitch Jackson, FedEx’s vice president for environmental affairs and sustainability. “The second component of that is to replace vehicles and put the most efficient vehicle on the best route. If it’s a high mileage route with low volume, low package counts, we put smaller fuel-efficient vehicles on it. For these urban delivery cycles, it’s something like these electric vehicles.”

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Electric trucks are ideally suited for urban deliveries as they typically follow set, relatively short routes well within the range of current batteries and can be easily recharged overnight at distribution facilities. And of course replacing diesel with electrons cuts air pollution in congested cities.

But an electric fleet presents a logistical challenge. If FedEx replaces a third of its 500-vehicle New York City fleet with electric trucks, for instance, the company will be putting a megawatt of electricity demand on an aging, already over-taxed power grid.

To tackle what is essentially a Big Data dilemma, FedEx is collaborating with General Electric – which is providing the company with commercial charging stations – utility Con Edison and Columbia University researchers, who are developing artificial intelligence programs to manage when and where the electric trucks charge in a 10-vehicle pilot project.

“We’re collecting data on what is the load on the facility, what is the load of each truck, how many miles does that truck drive,” says Sondhi. “The algorithms from Columbia will identify that a truck is going to drive 16 miles tomorrow, so don’t give it 30 amps, give it 8 amps so we minimize the load on the entire facility.”


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