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Walmart truck to test new diesel engine

by Serenah McKay | May 26, 2021 at 2:08 a.m.

A truck from Walmart Inc.'s private fleet will test a cleaner-burning and more efficient diesel engine starting this summer.

The three-cylinder, 10.6-liter engine will be placed in one of Walmart's Peterbilt 579 trucks to haul goods in Southern California.

Although the engine has been tested in labs, its use in the Walmart truck will be its first on-the-road test, said Karen Caesar, information officer for the California Air Resources Board's Southern California office.

The truck will be in service starting in July and will run for at least three months, said Larry Fromm, executive vice president of business development for Achates Power Inc.

"Transportation, of course, is essential to human health and prosperity, but it comes with harmful side effects," Fromm said. "Walmart has been a leader in investing to reduce the harmful effects of transportation. This project is another example of that."

A Walmart spokesman said the retailer is not directly involved in the engine's development and pilot. Fromm said Achates is working directly with the truck manufacturer Peterbilt but that Walmart and Peterbilt have worked together on other transportation projects.

Achates developed the device -- an opposed-piston engine -- through a heavy-duty commercial vehicle project supported by the California Air Resources Board and other entities.

The late John Walton, youngest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, co-founded Achates in 2004. The company is based in San Diego.

Investors in Achates include Madrone Capital Partners, the private equity firm in Menlo Park, Calif., that was co-founded by another Sam Walton scion, Rob Walton. According to Crunchbase, Madrone is run by Rob Walton's son-in-law, Greg Penner.

Achates describes itself on its website as a company that "develops automotive engines that reduce CO2 emissions in a cost-effective manner."

Walmart is part of a consortium of companies taking part in the project called the Opposed Piston Engine Class 8 Heavy-Duty On-Road Demonstration. The California Air Resources Board lists both the Bentonville-based Walmart and Tyson Foods Inc., based in Springdale, among the partners in the project.

A Tyson spokesman said some members of its transportation team worked with Achates early in the project's development. But Tyson is not involved in testing the new engine, he said.

Other partners include Aramco Services Co., Peterbilt and the chemical company BASF.

The project was funded with a $16.7 million grant from CALSTART, a nonprofit network that provides businesses and governments with resources and funding to develop efficient, low-emissions transportation technology.

Caesar said CALSTART also chose the companies making up the consortium.

Lab performance-test results that Achates published in December showed that the engine sharply cuts nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide emissions. It also meets emissions standards that both the Environmental Protection Agency and California have set for 2027.

"These results show that the opposed-piston technology is able to meet our sustainable transportation goals, reducing criteria pollutants while also emitting less carbon dioxide," Achates Chief Executive Officer David Crompton said in the report.

"At a time when the industry is contemplating many technology options to address clean energy, it's important to have pragmatic solutions in the conversation that can have more immediate impact," Crompton said. "Meeting or beating the most stringent regulations with less cost and complexity and no reliance on enabling infrastructure is compelling."

Walmart has set its own sustainability goals since at least 2005. In September, Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon announced the company's latest targets, one of which is reaching zero greenhouse-gas emissions from its own operations for 2040.

Reaching that goal will require transitioning to all-electric long-haul trucks over the next 20 years, McMillon said.

Fromm said diesel engines are used in most long-haul transportation "and by nearly every forecast will continue to be used for some time to come."

"So if we are to make our transportation infrastructure more sustainable, we have to reduce harmful impacts of diesel engines," Fromm said.

"With this program, we are demonstrating that we can almost eliminate both nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from internal combustion engines while also significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions," Fromm said.

"This enables a third viable pathway -- along with battery vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles -- to achieve truly sustainable transportation," he said. "In my view, we should keep all pathways open until a dominant solution has proven itself."

Information for this article was contributed by Nathan Owens of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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