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IdleAire: Reducing Trucker’s Environmental Impact

| Wednesday May 14th, 2008 | 20 Comments

bbbf.jpgIf you’ve ever been on a road trip, you’ve probably seen this sight at a rest stop: one, or many big rig trucks, just…idling. Not going anywhere. What is this, like a computer on “sleep,” ready to go? No. The answer may surprise you. At least in the US, truck drivers are required to rest 10 hours for every 11 driven. A reasonable thing, but this often necessitates them sleeping in their cabins. And that requires power for the heating or cooling, and other comforts of “home” on the road. Power that comes from a running truck.
But that has consequences. On the environment, on the driver, and on the vehicle. Multiply that by the number of truckers on the road at any given time, and the potential impact is enormous. And it doesn’t have to be that way. IdleAire has created a device that alleviates the need for idling, while retaining all that truckers are accustomed to having while at rest. And it doesn’t require retrofitting the vehicle, beyond a $10 window adapter, a price point apparently unique for the industry.


The IdleAire service can actually add to the quality of life of the trucker, allowing them to have internet, phone, and television in their cab, better connecting them with the world, minus the engine noise and fumes, encouraging a better sleep. All this will likely reduce turnover, saving fleets both fuel and recruitment cost, saving (one would hope) on shipping costs for companies.
Doing something I wish my car did, the air conditioning is filtered, and exposed to UV light to kill the viruses, bacteria and spores that typically pollute indoor environments. This I imagine would lower the number of sick days.
IdleAire wisely addresses the travel centers that service drivers by mentioning that their service

…keeps travel centers financially whole by providing income that exceeds any lost fuel sales.

which would seem to allay fear they may have, and increase adoption.
For those of us who live near where trucks congregate, this will reduce noise and air pollution, and make the streets safer with more aware, functional drivers. In regards to fuel use, it saves a gallon of gas per hour. Multiply that by 10 hours a day, and the number of truckers on the road, and you’ve got something huge.
Readers: What other ways do you see to make trucking, and shipping in general, more sustainable, for all involved?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.


▼▼▼      20 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Anonymous

    IdleAire Technologies, whose plan to help the environment and make millions by changing how long-haul truck drivers spend the night, has filed for bankruptcy protection.
    Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of local investors hoped to cash out in an initial public stock offering, but those dreams were dashed with the company’s Chapter 11 filing Monday. The Knoxville firm, which makes and maintains in-cab electric units for long-haul truckers, filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
    IdleAire was launched in June 2000 and has built a network that at year’s end saw its systems installed in 8,483 parking spaces at 130 locations in 34 states. The company’s signature product is a system of window power units that hang from steel trusses at truck stops, and provide heating, air conditioning, Internet and television services to truck drivers.
    At around $2.18 an hour for basic services – plus additional charges for services like movies on demand or wireless Internet – the idea was that drivers would save money by turning off the diesel-gobbling engines on their tractor-trailers during government-mandated rest periods.
    But company officials recently have acknowledged that use of the devices has been slow to gain widespread support, citing a difficulty in changing truck drivers’ attitudes toward idling their engines.
    The company drew support from some well-connected backers over the years, but the support didn’t translate into profits. Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale bought $10,000 worth of company stock in 2004, while one of the company’s directors is Thomas “Mack” McLarty III, a boyhood friend and one-time chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.
    In a filing Monday, the company said it had been awarded $55.6 million in grants from state and federal agencies aiming to encourage technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save fuel, and had collected approximately $25.1 million worth of grants through the end of last year. The Knoxville Transportation Planning Organization has given the company about $3 million in grants.
    The company was never profitable, though, and in a filing CEO Michael Crabtree said IdleAire had a net loss of $93.4 million in 2007, on net revenues of $37.2 million.
    Business writer Josh Flory may be reached at 865-342-6994.

  • Nick Aster

    Yikes, that puts a damper on things, thanks Josh. I’m amazed that truckers are not concerned with blowing all that fuel given $4+ per gallon diesel prices when the IdleAire, at $2.18 and hour, obviously saves money and give heaps of benefits. Do you think it’s just pure inertia or is the IdleAire too complicated for its own good? Perhaps it was not rolled out at enough truck stops to get a critical mass?

  • Nick Aster

    HEy Josh, this is from last week’s Knoxville paper:
    IdleAire avoids bankrucpty with loan.
    Sound’s like they’re still truckin’ for now. Maybe they should team up with ATDynamics?

  • aj

    any real change needs to start from the top down. If there are governmental mandates that require drivers to take 10 hr. rest stops, why can’t there be some mandate, say, from transit companies, thet at least SWAY their drivers toward using the IdleAire system. While this gets sticky in that it may create a monopoly in the process, the benefits would be astounding! as the article reads, the savings on fuel and the better quality of air and recreation for the drivers themselves seems like benefit enough, but the reduction in CO2 emitions would be an added bonus. If local, state and federal governments can call for the reduction of diesel emitions at the ports and within transit fleets, why can’t they request that they turn off their engins? There is a system already in place that would quell any discomfort felt by the drivers and the cost for using the system is far less expensive than keeping the engins running. This is an easy call to make. Why are we all overthinking this?

  • Sheryl Muir

    I see no mention of how many parking spots IdleAir eliminates, requiring many drivers to continue traveling until they can find somewhere to stop. Nor did I see any mention of APUs (Alternative Power Units), or generators. All I really saw was one big advertisement for IdleAir. There are many alternatives to leaving the truck running, not just one.

  • Nick Aster

    Sheryl – that’s a good point. Do drivers ALWAYS idle for 10 hours? Or not? Maybe if it’s not especially hot or cold outside they just shut ‘er down! It’s not like they need the cable TV while they’re asleap. I’d like to know the reality of truck stop idling…

  • http://www.greensmithconsulting.com Paul Smith

    Sheryl, good question. The article is meant to be an introduction to an idea, and a company doing what sounds like a good job at addressing it, and to start a conversation. Which I’d say it has succeded. I’d say contact them and ask, or have a look at the website for more.

  • Anonymous

    Call someone at IdleAire. The last time I spoke to an employee they had already saved near or over 32 million gallons of fuel and reduced C02 emissions by 300,000 plus tons. All this while providing a better night sleep for the trucker as well as cleaner air for the local community.

  • Matt

    I AM a over the road truck driver, or was, and i want to point out that the majority of truck drivers on the road are company drivers. Well the problem with that is that we don’t pay for gas, but we do have to pay for IdleAire, so it’s much easier to idle on the company dollar then to pay ~$20 a night to have internet and tv i’m too tired to use.
    If companies had their fleet cards work at IdleAire, then we’d be in business. I’ll bet you will see that start happening soon enough as the industry gets more and more stressed with furl prices

  • Craig

    It’s like rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic…

  • Michelle

    It would be great if more truck stops would offer idle air. The one down fall to idle air is lack of truck parking. The units take up a lot of truck parking making it difficult for truckers to find a place to park for the night.
    My husband is a long-haul truck driver and while his company does pay for idle air, trying to find a truck stop that has it available can be a problem. Many times when my husband does find one, they are filled up. It is hard enough to try to find a truck stop with open parking for the night much less trying to find one that offers idle air.
    It is a great thing IF and WHEN he can find a spot, but nine times out of ten, he has a hard time find a truck stop that isn’t already filled to capacity.

  • Anonymous

    I think it would be great to set a standard for all trucks to run on biodiesel. This would greatly decrease the amount of pollution. They need to come up w/ a way to mount solar panels to the top of trucks, so that the ones that cannot use the idle air can run power off stored solar power.

  • http://www.marystruck.com The 48th ronin

    I have an extensive photo gallery and comments on I A on my old web site at http://www.marystruck.us/idleair.html
    They are not complimentary. they also show that usage has never under any circumstances been at a level that would lead to this company being profitable.
    I A was a dinosaur from the beginning, badly planned and even apparently more badly managed.
    The 52 million dollars of Tax payer money (of which they claim to have only spent 25 million so far) and the rapidly mounting multi hundreds of dollars in losses that have sustained is proof enough of that!
    The 25 million loan fell through and now they are seeking chapter 11 protection trying to salvage what they can.
    IF they had built something that truckers would WANT to use instead of trying to bully people into using a design that made truck stops less safe and caused minor accidents everywhere they were built, the result might have been better EXCEPT for the reality of
    Truckers faced with 4+$ a gallon fuel have been increasingly turning off their trucks without the benefits of I A. In the last month I have been in truck stops walking my dog and counting, the average has been less than 10 percent of trucks idling in states that do not have Anti Idle laws. ( MONEY TALKS).
    A percentage of trucks (over the road long haul) have 2 drivers ( team operation). These trucks are parked in truck stops for meals and showers, but seldom for more than 3 hours a stop. They will not use idle air, nor do they normally need to idle unless one driver is asleep in the cab.
    Owner/Drivers like myself who travel alone, sleep in truck stops and try as much as possible to shut off our trucks ( we buy the fuel). A minority of company trucks have single drivers, they might not buy the fuel, but many fleets have performance bonuses based on low idle percentages that reward the driver for shutting off the truck. As fuel goes up in price I A actually looses effectiveness to economics.
    I have several friends who after being hit by trucks backing blindly out from these poorly conceived sites will celebrate the day they go out of business. For my part I try to never park in them because the danger while backing out is probably the worst I face even as compared to delivering into shopping malls and office buildings.
    If they had been content to simply place electric power in truck stops on a pay as you go ( metered like Europe) basis, most trucks would already have ( as I do) r v type roof top ac units that would eliminate all idling for penneys an hour. California has an electrification law, It is based on that idea and would be so much cheaper to build.

  • Matt

    Shore power and rooftops is probably the best idea;
    followed next by idleaire fleet cards and APUs.
    I do have to contest a few things though, most company trucks are 1 driver to a truck, and those performance bonuses almost never show up.
    I know companies like Werner have been bullying their drivers into not idling and coming up with crazy idling rules. (i.e. Designated idling areas at terminals that will only fit one truck).
    And that nose-in idleaire parking is a pain, but i t’s not so bad, at least you can usually find a spot there at night!

  • http://www.marystruck.com The 48th ronin

    quoting
    think it would be great to set a standard for all trucks to run on bio diesel. This would greatly decrease the amount of pollution. They need to come up w/ a way to mount solar panels to the top of trucks, so that the ones that cannot use the idle air can run power off stored solar power.
    » Anonymous end quote
    Bio fuel is not the answer. If all the land in the USA was converted to soy bean growing, there would still not be enough bio diesel to run the country.
    There are no studies yet that show the air being less polluted by Bio Diesel, but there are studies showing the INCREASE in pollution caused by ethanol. MY own experience is that BIO might work great in a new truck, but the lasting problems caused when you put more than B30 ( 30 percent bio) in an older truck are costly to the truck owner. The real answer is eliminate idling. If every truck was equipped with a $600 dollar electric a c unit, and electricity was available at any reasonable cost, idling would disappear from the scene here as it has in England and Europe.
    You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to calculate the savings a wind farm and electric meters and outlets could bring to a trucking operation.
    Many truckers ( including myself) have spent great amounts of money already experimenting with APU systems ( I have tried 3 different ones already) and now are adapting electric a c units and banks of deep cycle batteries to eliminate a 4$ an hour expense. The government does not need to spend millions building unsafe unused networks of internet and movie on demand “comfort” systems, simple electric outlets would goad fleet owners into investing in electric a c units. If the demand was there, the same people who build roof top r v units would make split system electric units that would mount on those trucks that have roofs too high for standard r v units.
    Problem solved without massive robin hood money redistribution.

  • http://www.marystruck.com The 48th ronin

    quoting
    Shore power and rooftops is probably the best idea;
    followed next by idleaire fleet cards and APUs.
    I do have to contest a few things though, most company trucks are 1 driver to a truck, and those performance bonuses almost never show up.

    Boyd Brothers, I worked for them for 3 years back when I drove the other guys truck, and I NEVER missed the no idle bonus of 5 cents a mile….
    Most company trucks that travel OTR are team driven, this has been true for years now. The single operators are out there, and many regional fleets exist but those drivers are home once or twice a week and off weekends. They are not going to make I A profitable.
    The basis for a good business is identifying your customer base. I A apparently didn’t bother to do this.
    The basis for a good business is to consult with your potential customers and building a product that meets their needs. I A apparently thought the movie on demand, pay per view and internet connections on a premium basis would tip the scales toward profitability of the ineffective equipment they built to provide a c. This again was apparently a mistake as their target customer usually has internet connectivity and does not use movie on demand or pay per view because cheap movie rentals ( see red box) compete with the cheap movie DVD sales the truck stops already have.
    A unit could have been designed and built that clipped into a window frame eliminating the yellow air hose that retains cigarette smoke odor. The electric provided for that unit could have been offered to people with on board electric a c units. (say rent a window a c for $1 an hour electric connection for 50 cents etc.) There would have been no need of the massive gantries, or they could have been adapted to the normal SAFE back in pull out parking without those many posts that eliminate so many desperately needed parking spaces.
    Meanwhile the dinosaur fails to and probably will never make a profit, and it is laughable to assume I A ca ever pay rental for the spaces used and those eliminated that are driving off customers who buy hundreds of gallons of fuel a day, eat in the restaurants, and spend money in the shops and convenience stores.

  • http://www.marystruck.com The 48th ronin

    A storey appeared on truckinginfo.com claiming Idle Air might have a buyer in the wings…search engines found it for me, but the site is down today.
    Funney thing that, among the facts available about idle air is the one about the leadrship all signng new contracts last september giving them 18 month salary golden parachutes, and containing a clause that gave each of them a 1 million dollar buy out if the firm changed hands….
    So the ex chief of staff for Bill Clinton mentioned in the article from knoxville news will get a handsome reward for his political pull launching this venture…….

  • http://www.marystruck.com The 48th ronin

    apparently after the topix search engine filed the story, about the “buyer in the wings” it was pulled… HMMM…

  • Lonnie Bailey

    Speaking as a company driver, it seems pretty simple if you do the math. Idle Aire costs $20 a night. An average driver will spend at least 5 nights out per week. thats $100 per week or $5200 per year. An APU costs approximately $5000 plus installation and once initially paid for you own it. No additional costs except for routine maintenance. It only costs a 1/4 of Idle Aire per night to operate. No need for a truck stop at all. Many APU installers offer financing making it affordable for the independent driver. it seems the only advantage I A has over an APU is the TV and internet connection. most drivers I know rarely have enough time on their hands to make this advantage pay off.

  • http://warontruckers.com Hanzzsolo

    I dont know where Idleaire is $20 per night, it’s now almost $3.50 per hour plus tax. My company will not reimburse for it, yet they want us to sleep in HOT trucks. The other problem with Idleaire is that they are seriously lacking in their maintance, whole rows at truckstops are out of service. They also do not even come close to the amount of units needed in metro areas where anti-idling is most enforced. APU’s are the answer at the present time. Regulations need to be passed to FORCE the fleet owners to install APU’s and take proper care of their employees.
    See the article on http://www.warontruckers.com