Look Out For Falling Emissions!
In partnership with truck and component manufacturers, Walmart regularly tests new environmentally sustainable technologies and has built several prototype truck tractors. “Like many emerging technologies,” says Elizabeth Fretheim, Walmart’s director for Business Strategy and Sustainability-Logistics, “these trucks may never enter operation or may not remain in operation long as they go through multiple iterations before being cleared for commercialization.”
Walmart has put its “green” effort into the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience, built as a learning, rather than an operational, platform for the integration of environmental technologies. “Although some of the technologies themselves weren’t new, configuring them all together was,” says Fretheim.
The quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been in the news of late, thanks to greater consciousness about climate change and the Obama administration’s efforts, through executive orders and regulations, to control pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants.
The trucking industry isn’t under the regulatory gun just yet, and it may not be if the sustainability and green trends prevailing in the industry continue. Shippers and truckers know that their contributions to sustainability make it less likely they will become subject to regulatory mandates. As concern over climate change grows, customers up and down the supply chain want to know what their suppliers are doing to help the effort—and, in many cases, will prefer to do business with suppliers that are doing more rather than less.
The Walmart prototype, built in collaboration with Peterbilt Motors and Great Dane Trailers, included several technology firsts, including advanced aerodynamics, lightweight composite materials, and an innovative hybrid powertrain. “Instead of an internal combustion engine,” explains Fretheim, “the concept truck uses a microturbine to charge batteries that in turn power an electric motor. The microturbine in the prototype runs on diesel, but microturbines are basically fuel neutral and could run on almost any fuel like natural gas or biofuel with little modification.”
This experimental powertrain is not yet ready for over-the-road applications but is prime for off-road operation like yard trucks, notes Fretheim.
The U.S. government has its hand in this broad, eco-conscious effort through a voluntary program from the Environmental Protection Agency called the SmartWay Transport Partnership, which sets goals for controlling emissions and contributions toward sustainability. Growing numbers of companies are joining the program, and they prefer to do business with fellow SmartWay members.
“Our focus is to support our customers with their sustainability programs,” says Drew Cullen, senior vice president of Fuels and Facilities Services at Penske Truck Leasing. “They often come to us with their companies’ sustainability goals and say, ‘Help us with this.’ We help with the analyses and the justifications from a costs and sustainability standpoint. We help our customers understand what works and what doesn’t.”
Much of Penske’s green efforts surround advising customers on EPA’s SmartWay program. “Carriers will get [requests for proposals] from shippers that require them to be in SmartWay,” says Cullen.
“More businesses want to use SmartWay carriers because of their better overall performance and because of demands of customers and shareholders. We are in a unique position to help them with SmartWay because we know how it works and because we are very familiar with the operations of our customers’ fleets.”
Achim Jüchter, a senior expert on green technologies at Deutsche Post DHL Group, says, “We pursue a strategy to engage in the development of new technologies. This strategy is important in order to be able to provide suppliers with our user recommendations and requirements at an early stage and so enhance the chances for a market success of the new technologies.”
Deutsche Post DHL uses various environmentally friendly vehicles in its global operations, notes Jüchter. “Among others,” he adds, “we deploy teardrop trailers,” curved-roofed vehicles that are reputed to save on fuel, “and dual fuel, electric and hybrid vehicles. In addition we operate with lightweight trailers and advanced aerodynamics, speed limiting and anti-idling mechanisms.”
DHL has had good experiences with short- and mid-range vehicles with alternative power sources like electric, hybrid and compressed natural gas, and the company intends to intensify their use. “Their use also depends on local factors like fuel infrastructure, product availability and driving cycle, such as topography and start-stop intensity,” says Jüchter. “For the long-range, liquefied natural gas and advanced biofuels are the most promising solutions and we expect further growth in this segment.”
DHL’s future plans include a focus on biologically produced liquefied natural gas and second-generation diesel substitutes as well as hybrid drive trains, especially for inner-city operations. “We also aim to introduce further teardrop trailers,” says Jüchter.
As for Walmart’s Advanced Vehicle Experience, the evaluation has been completed and the team is currently building the vision for the next concept vehicle. “The feedback has been extremely positive,” says Fretheim. “One of the most important lessons was the high level of ingenuity in the industry. That will serve to push us faster toward next-generation technologies.”
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