Intermodal Industry Is Working to Increase Sustainability

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Orange EV displayed its 2022 all-electric terminal truck, e-Triever. (Mindy Long for Transport Topics)

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LONG BEACH, Calif. — Sustainability is top of mind for many in the shipping and transportation industries, and exhibitors and speakers at the IANA Intermodal Expo 2022 said the industry continues to make efficiency gains.

“Intermodal is the most sustainable mode if you’re measuring it strictly by emissions,” said Joni Casey, president of the Intermodal Association of North America. “The industry is extremely conscious of the climate concerns and improving what was already there.”

This year’s Expo featured 110 companies and showcased more sustainable solutions than any previous event, Casey said. “It is top of mind for folks.”

Tim Denoyer, vice president at ACT Research and a panelist at the Expo, said he sees a lot of opportunities for new technology in the intermodal space. “I think intermodal and drayage are a unique niche because there are very few trucking operations that could do autonomous and electric,” he said. “It is a tractor move short enough to electrify, but if it were to become autonomous, it could make intermodal even more competitive.”

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IMC's Pacific Drayage Services is adding six Volvo electric trucks to its fleet. (Mindy Long for Transport Topics)

Pacific Drayage Services, an IMC Co., announced that it is adding six Volvo electric trucks to its fleet. Mark George, chairman of IMC, said the fleet will be 100% electric by 2030. He added that IMC also focuses on improving sustainability by using fuel-efficient diesel technology and uses renewable diesel fuel in its California operations.

Orange EV displayed its 2022 all-electric terminal truck, e-Triever, which operates at low speeds and is designed to move trailers. CEO Wayne Mathisen said the company is also redesigning its technology and expects to release a port truck, able to meet the high hauling capacity, in the second half of next year.

“It is a natural extension of what we do but it is a whole new design project,” Mathisen said. “Ports have an expectation of eliminating emissions.”

Parallel Systems showcased its autonomous battery-electric rail vehicle during the Expo. The rail vehicles are independently powered and can join together to form platoons or split off to multiple destinations while en route.

Matt Soule


Matt Soule, co-founder and CEO of Parallel Systems, said the technology means they don’t have to accumulate large quantities of freight to make service economical and will enable customers to use smaller terminals. “It doesn’t require the same scale,” he said.

Meghan Marsden, chief operating officer of Valor Victoria, an inland intermodal logistics provider based in Plymouth, Minn., said the company uses data to improve planning and lower emissions. “It is knowing how to make moves so there is the least carbon usage,” she said. “Rather than saying, ‘We’re working on it,’ we like absolutes.”

Salvatore DiDonato, chief information officer of STG Logistics, said visibility within logistics has continued to improve. “Twenty years ago, it was a black hole,” he said.

Technology enables real-time tracking and communication with drivers, which can drive efficiency. The industry has also moved to electronic proof of delivery. “Getting rid of paper, especially with COVID, was a big boost,” he said.

IMC is increasing efficiency by speeding turn times for drivers at the port through technology. It recently introduced SmartStacks, which allows drivers to pull up to a pile of containers and take the top container rather than waiting for a specific container located somewhere in the pile. Drivers see the container’s destination and can choose to deliver the container to its final destination or take it to a nearby IMC depot.

George said the technology reduces container dwell time to under two days from 12, reduces fuel use and cuts idling time by 67%.

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