An electric moment in garbage history

Loadmaster, a Norway, Michigan company, is helping to build the first electric-operated garbage truck in the nation, for the city of Chicago.
"Anytime you're part of a ground-breaking piece of your industry, it's an exciting day for everyone associated with the company," says Terry Barnes, VP of Loadmaster in Norway, Michigan.

It indeed was a thrilling day in December for Loadmaster, a company that manufactures garbage truck collection bodies, when the first battery- and electricity-powered garbage truck left its Upper Peninsula plant to head to Chicago.

It was the first of what may be at least 20 such trucks to be used in Chicago, which has secured a five-year, $13.4 million grant to purchase 19 more trucks if the initial truck proves successful.

"Of course, it's a proud day for us, anytime you're making history, no matter what role you're playing in it," says Barnes. Loadmaster has made 230 truck bodies in the past that carry diesel fuel for Chicago--and that relationship went a long way in helping the company secure the work on the electric truck prototype. "Of course, it runs from President Dave Brisson right down to every employee in the company. We were all very excited when we saw the truck leave our building and head to Chicago for its first use."

The truck itself will be made by Motive Power Systems, a start-up from San Francisco, which secured the contract with Chicago. It got the contract, in large part, because the scalability and flexibility of the Motive electric powertrain control system (called ePCS, pronounced "epics") made the company the most cost-effective choice for the exclusive five-year deal. The ePCS is the only technology of its kind in the trucking market, and the batteries can be mixed and matched to fit the exact size of the electric truck needed.

The chassis was manufactured by Crane Carrier, and Loadmaster, of course, provided the all-important body. Once Chicago chose Motive to move forward with the project, Motive was sure to pick partners who would give it the best possible chance for success at a cost that would make sense to the city of Chicago. Loadmaster was a natural selection.

"Motiv's approach to the refuse market is the same as in other medium and heavy-duty vehicle markets where we have worked before; find the best, most knowledgeable partners and build a team and product based on our combined expertise at a lower cost," says Jim Castelaz, CEO of Motive Power Systems. "These partners enable us to deliver a vehicle to Chicago that is not a science project, but instead consists of industry-standard components with strong, experienced suppliers standing behind every aspect of the vehicle."

Castelaz has reason for confidence in Loadmaster, which designs several different bodies for refuse trucks, depending on need and technology, and also has a long-standing working relationship with the city of Chicago.

"We've made enough bodies for diesel-powered trucks for Chicago that they see what we're capable of," Barnes says. "We just had to make enough changes for the electric trucks to go with the chassis. That's the key: to make sure the chassis' work and production can go forward on more trucks … but that's getting ahead of ourselves. We're concerned on getting the first one on track."

Barnes says the Loadmaster Excel-S model was chosen because it has high compaction capabilities, it is aesthetically pleasing, and it has been used in high volume in Chicago already. To prove Chicago's confidence in Loadmaster, the city just signed an eight-year extension to provide Excel-S bodies.

Loadmaster employs about 60 employees at its Norway facility, and its line includes several types: the Excel-S, a high compaction unit with a 3.7 cubic yard hopper; the Elis, with a smaller 8-11 cubic yard high compaction rear-loader; the Legacy, a mid-range compaction rear-loader; and the 400 Series, a demolition rear-loader made mostly for New York City and New Jersey.

Barnes acknowledges that just as recently as two or three years ago, he would not have envisioned an electrically powered garbage truck being used on a widespread basis--not that this is where this project is yet, but it could be heading in that direction.

"We had just come out with compressed natural gas, and that was a brand new technology that is a lot greener than diesel," he says.

Loadmaster sells compressed natural gas trucks to Columbus, Ohio, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other cities, and they run much cleaner than the hundreds of diesel-fuel trucks they have sold over their decades in business. But Barnes says tat the company is prepared to go greener still.

"If the electric trucks work well in Chicago, and they build 20 trucks, then it might spread to New York City, and you never know where it might go from there," he says. "We are prepared to go wherever the clients call us. We are ready to go as green as possible, if that's what people are looking for.

"The technology is there. It's now just a matter of perfecting it and putting it into use."

Jeff Barr is a freelance writer who has lived in Michigan for 46 years. You can reach Jeff at barrj88@gmail.com.
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