Last Wednesday Wrightspeed rolled out the first commercial application of a range-extended electric refuse truck with its partner company in Sonoma County, Calif.

During a press conference, Wrightspeed, the manufacturer of range-extended electric vehicle (REV) powertrains for heavy-duty applications, delivered a Class 8 Freightliner to partner The Ratto Group, a Santa Rosa, Calif.-based refuse, yard waste and recycling collection and processing company. The turbine-electric powertrain developed by Wrightspeed Inc., based in Alameda, Calif., will be placed in at least 15 vehicles deployed into the trash hauling company’s fleet over the next year, Tim Dummer, Wrightspeed’s chief business officer, told

Ratto may retrofit all of its 130 trash and recycling trucks with the REV powertrains, said Lou Ratto, chief operating officer.

Refuse trucks have a demanding duty cycle, with frequent stops and starts and heavy loads to heave into trucks and transport to dumping grounds. Using electric power for refuse trucks has been very challenging, as the demanding duty cycle will quickly drain an electric powertrain’s batteries.

Wrightspeed’s powertrain, which it calls “The Route,” uses a micro-turbine generator to provide electricity to the traction motors when the truck’s grid-charged battery pack is depleted, Dummer said.

The turbine is “fuel agnostic, but most customers use either diesel or gasoline,” he said.

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Wrightspeed adapted The Route for the refuse industry, generating enough power for a 66,000 pound GVW truck. These trucks can go 24 miles on battery power before the range extender engine kicks in. That improves fuel economy up to 7 mpg in combined electricity-liquid fuel operation, slashing annual fuel consumption by 50 to 70 percent compared with the average diesel refuse truck.

Wrightspeed is led by Ian Wright, Tesla Motors’ co-founder and vice president of vehicle development. He left the electric car company in late 2004.

The manufacturer of REV powertrains is also working with Mack Trucks on refuse trucks. At a June waste management and recycling conference in Las Vegas, the heavy-duty truckmaker unveiled an electric garbage truck that has a powertrain developed by Wrightspeed. The truck is based on Mack’s LR model and features a range-extended electric powertrain.

COO Ratto said he decided to use the company’s existing Freightliner Condor diesel trucks for the conversions because they previously had been retrofitted with diesel particulate filters to meet California’s 2006 heavy-truck emissions rules, but there were several problems in the conversions. The diesel particulate filers “caused a lot of problems” that increased maintenance costs and led to some early engine failures, Ratto said.

“To recycle the recycling truck is huge from an environmental perspective,” Ratto said. “And the idea that [by electrifying the trucks] we can do this and get off the air quality rollercoaster and stop battling to meet California emissions requirements, that makes it all worthwhile.”