February 8, 2010
Where the rubber meets the road
For Steve Phillips, senior vice president, operations, Werner Enterprises, a green fleet is an aerodynamic fleet. “Eighty-eight percent of our fleet is aerodynamic. by that I mean full fairings, top and bottom, and approved as ‘aerodynamic’ by SmartWay. We have been purchasing SmartWay approved aerodynamic trucks for some time, and as we continue to sell off older equipment and buy new trucks, then sometime within this year, 100 percent of our fleet will be aerodynamic.”
Phillips says the company is also looking at the benefits of aerodynamic trailers, specifically those that are outfitted with skirting. “We are currently testing three different manufacturers’ skirting, including one of our own designs.” while the actual fuel savings associated with trailer skirting is up for debate, “there’s enough proof that it does improve fuel savings,” he says.
Phillips believes that new regulations from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) are largely responsible for jumpstarting the move to trailer skirting. the regulations will be phased in over 11 years—between 2010 and 2020—and are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by heavy-duty tractors pulling 53-foot or longer box-type trailers. Equipment owners are responsible for replacing or retrofitting their vehicles with SmartWay-compliant aerodynamic technologies and low rolling resistance tires for operation on California highways.
“Manufacturers are claiming their trailer skirts will cut fuel consumption anywhere from 5 to 7 plus percent,” Phillips says, and while that’s admirable, cost has been an issue for some. “You’re looking at $1500 to $2000 for a set of skirts; but that cost will likely come down as they become more prevalent.”
Tires are also where carriers can see some real results. “Right now, we’re buying all low resistance tires, and we have been for some time. the latest are super single tires that offer even lower resistance. although super single tires aren’t widespread yet, we’re seeing some very positive impacts.”
Inflation systems are another worthwhile tool, says Phillips. “Drivers do a pretty good job of checking tire pressure on their tractor, but a pretty poor job on the trailers. Tire inflation systems are a very good investment because not only do they improve miles per gallon they also reduce tire wear. An improperly inflated tire is going to have half the durability of a properly inflated tire.”
Electric auxiliary power units (APUs) are also growing in popularity, Phillips says, as are single-drive axels. but, one product that hasn’t quite been accepted is biofuel. “It may be in part because the $1 tax credit expired on January 1st of this year,” posits Phillips.
As it turns out, biofuels have been sputtering for some time, and a new study by Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy is particularly critical of its future. for starters, the study questions the economic, environmental, and logistical basis for the billions of dollars in federal subsidies and protectionist tariffs that go to domestic ethanol producers every year.
On the topic of environmental and health impacts, the study asserts that the addition of ethanol to gasoline will impede the natural attenuation of BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) in groundwater and soil, posing a great risk for human exposure to these toxic constituents if an underground storage tank leaks.
In addition, there are logistical challenges as well. while gasoline in the U.S. is distributed mainly by pipeline, the current U.S. ethanol distribution system depends upon rail, barge, and truck, which is more costly than pipeline.
Meanwhile, there are some more promising developments on the horizon. last month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it would give $187 million to nine projects to improve fuel efficiency in heavy-duty trucks and passenger vehicles.
Cummins inc. will receive $53 million for two projects: improving Class 8, or so-called “super trucks,” by developing a cleaner diesel engine; and developing new technology for powertrains for passenger vehicles.
Most of the funding, about $115 million, will be spent on projects related to fuel efficiency for the super truck. In addition to the grant to Cummins, the Department of Energy awarded grants to Indiana-based Navistar to develop technologies to cut fuel use in half for heavy-duty trucks and trailers, and Daimler Trucks North America of Portland, Oregon, which will work on shrinking the size of the engine. wt