Dom Magli, Staff Reporter at Port Technology International – PTI, sat down for an interview with Matt LeDucq, CEO of Forum Mobility. The conversation centred around electric vehicles (EVs) and charging depots, focusing on the environmental benefit they can have on ports and terminals. LeDucq mentioned the charging depots’ current impact on the maritime industry, while emphasizing their long-term effect and disclosing more on Forum Mobility’s recent collaboration with the Port of Long Beach.
How will charging depots benefit ports and terminals in the long run?
ML: In California you have 33,000 drayage trucks, the vast majority of those are small fleets and our operators. If we are going to make a transition that is complete with all the different types of fleets out there, especially the small fleets, you are going to need third-party charging infrastructure, you are going to need third-party financing and immense amount of charging to be able to make the transition that is mandated in California.
Facilities like this one [Forum Mobility’s charging depot] are going to be a first step of many steps needed to equitably and efficiently transition all the fleets in California to zero emission.
What environmental impact are electric vehicles having?
ML: When you look at California you are looking at 33,000 drayage trucks or so on the road every year. Depending on how many of 30,000 plus miles a year, they are driving upwards of a billion miles a year today in combustion trucks.
As we make this transition from zero emissions, obviously there will be particular emissions reduction but there is going to be a massive carbon reduction. It doesn’t take much to have a dramatic impact on the greenhouse gas (GHG) side of this stuff and a facility with a couple 100 trucks a day or more charging like ours is going to take a pretty big chunk out of emissions.
I think it’s worth noting that the mandate was made in California because of some of the health effects on port adjacent communities. You have communities like Wilmington, California that have nearly double the rate of cancer as a broader Los Angeles basin. I think adjacent communities are going to really benefit from zero emission trucks driving past their houses as opposed to the combustion trucks that have been doing it for decades.
Is it cost-efficient for port authorities to invest in electric vehicles and charging depots?
ML: I think that the cost-effectiveness in California is there, we’ve created a lot of really quality incentive programmes that are helping offset the cost of some of these capital costs. More is needed, I think that economics have to be front and centre in this transition.
I don’t think that we can make this transition equitably if it isn’t economic as well for the terminal operators, steam ship lines and the truckers themselves. We have to make sure that as we go through this generational transition that economics are really important and that they stay front and centre.
In California, we are able to offer trucks that are really competitive with a price of diesel at a fully turnkey, total cost of ownership every month.
Have you noticed ports in California reaching out more in regards to being interested in investing in these charging depots and electric vehicles?
ML: Yes. I think the ports are figuring out what role they play in this because as you know a lot of ports are landlord ports, especially on the West Coast, and they are trying to figure out what part in this do they play. Obviously, this has to happen on port property, but a lot of what we do specifically for drayage, can’t really happen on port property.
I think the ports have been really proactive, especially the west coast ports here in the US, but a lot of this has happen outside of the ports. I think everyone is trying to figure out where they fit into this, although we’ve seen a lot of proactivity from Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, and Tacoma. We’ve seen these ports really kind of figure out how they can help support this push and do it in a way that helps both us and their terminals.
How did your collaboration with the Port of Long Beach come about, and how was the implementation process of the charging depot?
ML: We are going to break ground on that depot here in the coming months. It will be about one year from today that it will be completed (November 2024). We’ve engaged with the Port of Long Beach about two years ago to start developing that project.
They’ve been an incredible partner. We worked hand-in-hand with them to find a really good site that was really accessible. They’ve been a really collaborative partner throughout the whole process. I really can’t say enough good stuff about the Port of Long Beach.
I think they’ve taken the stance as a port that they need to be as much part of this solution as possible and they’ve done that with the announcement of our depot amongst other depots that are going to help support charging or the drayage community.
Do you believe this charging depot will contribute to the Port of Long Beach reaching its 2030 zero emissions target?
ML: Absolutely. We will be able to charge over 200 trucks fully if they have that facility. Again, for the 7,000 trucks a day that enter in the 24,000 plus that are registered that go into that port every year, it’s a drop at the bucket, but they will absolutely contribute.
I mean, that is 200 trucks that are going 100 – 200 miles a day, and there is a lot of reduction in emissions and carbon that are going to come out of this facility. I think the port has done a really good job at just being proactive, as constantly trying to do their part with a lot of intention and leadership to get ahead of this.
What is Forum Mobility goal for 2024?
ML: The long-term goal for Forum Mobility is to make the transition to zero emission really easy, equitable, and economic for truckers. We do that by bundling trucks and charging at a fix cost per month that is competitive with the price of diesel.
This is like taking capital costs and turning them into operating costs. If we are going to do this equitably in the US and across the world, we are going to need to be able to do it with third party-finance and third party-owned solutions. Most truckers don’t have a yard that they can build a bunch of charging depots, they are going to need capital, efficient head of operators and third party infrastructure like Forum’s.
We are going to take 2024 to get California right, and we are going to build hundreds of trucks worth of facilities over the next 10 to 24 months. We have about eight depots that can charge over 600 trucks. Our plan is to expand rapidly from North America and eventually across the world, so that we could bring the Forum solution and network to every single port across the world and charge thousands of trucks every single day.
Are there any current agreements outside the State of California for setting up charging depots at ports or terminals?
ML: Yes. We can’t actually announce those yet. But, I can tell you there is a lot of interest from other ports. We are working through joint development agreements with a couple other ports as we speak right now. What is great is that they were able to get a lot of these things off the ground.
Today, we’ve got a fleet of trucks going in and out of the Port of LA and Long Beach. We are gaining tens of thousands of miles, while almost getting to 100,000 miles on our fleet owned in California. Other ports are able to come down and see what we are doing at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and learn from that.
We can tailor solutions for other ports. It’s been really cool to be able to be out early in this process at building infrastructure and getting trucks on the road as we work with new ports and we come up with new solutions that help their drayage community and their terminals make the transition to zero emission.
Matt LeDucq is the CEO of Forum Mobility, responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations and assisting his teams in supporting its clients in delivering on a wide range of projects in the renewable energy and storage markets. Prior to joining Forum Mobility, LeDucq was the Executive Director of NextEra Energy’s distributed generation team, where he was in charge of all greenfield origination, land acquisition, early stage development, and mergers and acquisitions.