Trucking is the lifeblood of most national economies, connecting the dots between planes, trains and ports. The trucking sector also provides jobs for about 3 million people in the U.S. alone–and companies are hiring. And, of course, this industry has a massive carbon footprint; but do not count on electric trucks or ones powered by biofuels to take off anytime soon.
But according to a report that Carbon War Room and Trimble released yesterday, seven simple energy efficiency technologies could reduce a Class 8 truck’s fuel costs by $26,400 a year–and if all such trucks adopted these measures, 624 million fewer tons of carbon would be emitted into the atmosphere by 2020. Plus, trucking companies would benefit with an average payback time of 18 months after investing in such changes.
The seven technologies–five of which are physical and two are based on IT (information technology) are:
Improvements in aerodynamics: No surprise here. Class 8 trucks (the ones that both scare you on the highway and weigh over 33,000 pounds), can benefit from aerodynamic upgrades to the tune of a 15 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. Just take a look at what is occurring in the U.S. and Europe: ATDynamics’ TrailerTail contraptions have saved an estimated 2 million gallons of diesel to date. An aggressive campaign to update trucks with new aerodynamic designs could reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. alone by 54 million tons over the next 10 years.
Anti-idle devices: Idling those engines in order to keep a truck’s engine block warm is a huge diesel sucker–as much as 1.1 billion gallons end up wasted annually. But devices such as direct-fired heaters and auxiliary power units can reduce such fuel waste by at least 75 percent.
Tires: Improved tire design can lead to an increase in fuel efficiency by about six percent. Instead of double tires, wide-based tires can reduce resistance–a such a trend in tire redesign is already underway as more newer trucks are sold with the newer and wider tires.
6×2 transmission systems: A 6×2 transmission has some disadvantages over the standard 6×4 setup, particularly for truckers who drive in more extreme climates. But in regions with moderate weather, fuel savings of up to $44,000 during the lifetime of a truck are a possibility. Here’s the issue: you cannot retrofit existing trucks from a 6×4 to a 6×2.
Advanced cruise control: If you do not use cruise control on your car, you should; you will net fuel savings. And if trucks kept to 65mph, which most experts agree is the peak fuel efficiency for trucks, CO2 emissions would drop. Limiting devices, or “governors,” is one option, but can become a safety hazard. Adaptive cruise control is an option that could improve fuel efficiency and safety by adapting a truck’s speed based on traffic conditions. Trucking companies have been slow to adapt such technologies, but the report estimates that such systems can net a fuel savings of $800 to $8,000 annually.
GPS assisted routing: What was once a luxury is now a necessity and has become more cost effective as is the case with most technologies. GPS devices that can provide real time traffic updates and historic traffic data can become especially advantageous for intra-city trucking. Improved mileage due to a GPS device on highways is minimal, but even incremental improvement in fuel efficiency can pay off big dividends when scaled: according to the report, if 10 percent of class 8 fleets scored a one percent increase due to adopting current GPS technologies, 20 million tons of CO2 would not be emitted into the atmosphere over the next decade.
Logistics management: Companies such as Walmart have reaped the benefits of reducing deadhead travel (trucks moving with empty cargo). About 10 percent of truck miles are deadhead miles; and for fleets, the ratio is as high as 28 percent. The result is wasted fuel, and for trucking companies’ bottom lines, missed revenue opportunities. Freight brokerages are developing a niche in matching drivers to hauls–and for fleet managers, that means less fuel purchased and even the possibility of leasing or buying fewer trucks.
Sounds simple? Not for independent truckers, who operate on thin margins. These efficiency measures are also lost on freight companies who do not pay for fuel–truck drivers front those costs, so there is little incentive for companies to retrofit the trucks they lease. And change is hard, not to mention that it is hardly a priority for someone who is on the road constantly, away from home and is under pressure to deliver shipments on a tight schedule. But as fuel prices remain high and will stay high in the long haul, adopting even some of the above measures will make financial sense in the long run.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.
Image credit: Ky MacPherson, Wikipedia