In 2017, the EPA reported that the transportation sector is the leading contributor of carbon emissions in the U.S. A major part of that sector is the $700 billion domestic trucking industry, which spends approximately $105B on diesel fuel annually, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA). To help offset this trend, many logistics and transportation companies have recently launched some level of fuel-saving initiative, aimed at helping to reduce their fuel use and carbon impact.
The trucking industry remains a critical function for the U.S. economy, and that reliance is only set to grow. However, most Class 8 trucks on the road today are only achieving roughly seven miles per gallon (MPG) – which keeps fuel consumption and carbon output unnecessarily high. The adoption of technologies to improve truck aerodynamics for long-haul carriers, along with helping to change fuel-hogging driver behaviors, can help fleets reduce fuel costs significantly while eliminating large amounts of carbon emissions. The industry must move aggressively closer to the long-desired goal of a 10MPG standard.
Innovation in Aerodynamics
Aerodynamic drag of a Class 8 truck accounts for a majority of a truck’s energy loss at highway speeds and results in unnecessary fuel usage. Reducing drag improves fuel efficiency which translates to greater efficiency benefits for the industry overall. So, how do trucking companies get there?
Truck manufacturers offer a variety of models with increased aerodynamic efficiency, and aftermarket providers offer numerous products that are proven to further improve fuel economy. One example from the aftermarket is an active-aero device that automatically closes the tractor-trailer gap on commercial trucks when the vehicle reaches a certain speed (approximately 40 miles per hour) and creates an estimated fuel savings of between four-to-six percent. The product also offers GPS-enabled software that tracks fuel savings information in real-time. Improving aerodynamics would cut annual fuel use of a single truck by up to 860 gallons.
Improving Driver Behavior
Another area worth noting to cut down fuel consumption– reducing the driving speed. According to ATA estimates, an average truck traveling at 75 mph will consume 27% more fuel compared to one going at 65 mph. Additionally, what most people don’t realize is an idle truck can be a massive fuel consumer. Drivers that idle their engines while resting to provide air-conditioning or heat for their sleeper compartments or those that have the habit of keeping their engines warm during cold months are just simple notions that cause major fuel consumption. Developing better practices to the above will help streamline fuel costs overall.
Beyond systems and behavior that address fuel efficiencies, companies can adopt other innovative ways to address managing fuel consumption such as side skirts or streamlined hoods to help reduce drag.
Opportunity with Data and Analytics
While physical and behavioral solutions can put more control in the hands of fleet managers, data analytics can play a large role as well. Valuable information gained through data/analytics provides a way to obtain greater transparency and visibility into performance. GPS-enabled software can help to validate the fuel savings from each innovation and help ensure it continues forward. These programs can be put in play to help manage efficiencies for the carrier and utilize technologies in ways that benefit the industry overall.
Carbon Reduction and Pushing to 10 MPG
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) experts, freight activity will nearly double by 2040, and global freight transport emissions will exceed passenger vehicle emissions by 2050. As sustainability is becoming a higher priority within the transportation industry, it’s important that carriers understand the benefits of investing in sustainability programs and resources, and how this translates to cutting costs.
Today’s top fleets are leading the sustainability charge. Everyone in the industry is watching what UPS, DHL, and the like-minded industry leaders are doing in regards to innovation adoption for the best fuel-efficiency technology. With trucking predicted to grow more and more each year, improving the fuel efficiency of the industry is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting profit margins in an increasingly regulated industry. According to NACFE’s 2017 Run On Less demonstration, achieving an average fuel efficiency of 10 MPG would save the U.S. trucking industry 9.7 billion gallons of diesel fuel, $24.3 billion and 98 million tons of CO2 each year [ref 1]. While the primary goal is to reduce the environmental impact of the transportation sector, it is successful in large part because it demonstrates financial benefit for industry stakeholders as well.
It’s clear that there is an abundance of challenges when it comes to fuel consumption in the trucking industry. However, the industry can be confident that there is an equal abundance of solutions to help improve fuel efficiency in order to manage costs and reduce carbon output.
Daniel Burrows is the CEO and Founder of XStream Trucking, an engineering company building connected hardware to improve the efficiency of the trucking industry