Trucking and the Environment
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), twenty six percent of fuel in the United States is consumed by the transportation industry. Fifty percent of those transportation emissions come from passenger vehicles and light duty trucks. The other fifty percent of those emissions are split between ships, trains, and trucks. The EPA also states that trucks and rails contribute to three hundred fifty million metric tons of Co2 emissions, and that number is supposed to dramatically increase over the next decade. So what are emissions? Emissions are things like carbon dioxide (Co2), nitrogen oxide (Nox), and particulate matter (PM) that come from the burning of fossil fuels. Co2, known commonly as carbon dioxide, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas according to the EPA, and has contributed to the rising global temperature. The EPA also states that the trucking industry accounts for eighteen percent of total Co2 emissions in the United States. Nox, contributes to the formation of ozone, known more commonly as smog. The EPA reports’ trucking contributes to fifty percent of total Nox emissions in the United States. So what then is PM or particulate matter? According to airinfonow.org particulate matter is invisible to the naked eye and is comprised of two types of particles, large and small. Large particles are particles like dirt, dust, and pollen. Small particles are particles like toxic organic compounds and heavy metals. Just so we are clear toxic organic compounds are the carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides already mentioned. Small particles are given off by burning plants or fossil fuels. These particles are then inhaled when we breathe in the air around us. According to airinfonow.org the smaller particles are the most dangerous because these particles have the ability to make it deeper down into the lungs. Breathing these toxic compounds and heavy metals have attributed to increased risk of cancers and asthma. Twenty seven percent of particulate matter emissions in the United States come from the trucking industry according to the EPA.
The trucking industry affects the environment everyday with every gallon of fuel burned. The issue I explored during my semester here at Rockford College was whether or not trucking companies were doing anything to cut their fuel consumption and thereby lessen their impact on the environment. In April of this year I moved to Rockford, Illinois to become more involved in the family trucking business. As the third generation in the company I’m interested in not only cutting the companies fuel costs, which happen to be the largest of the company’s expenses, but also helping to reduce our company’s impact on the environment. Currently our company operates twenty four trucks, which amounts to fuel expenses that average ninety thousand dollars a month, or just over a million dollars a year. Sounds like a lot of money but now think about those numbers in terms of gallons of fuel consumed. It would amount to roughly just over two hundred and sixty thousand gallons of fuel a year. In this paper I am going to concentrate on how trucking companies like ours can take advantage of new technologies and techniques to cut fuel consumption thus lower fuel costs and lessen the impact on the environment. Trucking companies can take steps to become more fuel efficient through advances in technology and through bio-fuels.
One source I would like to highlight is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For those that don’t know the EPA is also the government body that sets emission standards in the United States. The EPA recently teamed up with the freight industry through the help of the ATA, American Trucking Association, to create the SmartWay Transport Partnership. The program aims to reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, promote fuel efficiency, and insure energy security. Companies who participate in the program not only reduce fuel consumption, but they are also recognized for being socially responsible. The EPA’s SmartWay program provides grants to trucking companies that are enrolled in the program for them to invest in new fuel saving technologies. The SmartWay program offers not only members but everyone in the trucking industry access to information on fuel saving technologies that really work. Through the SmartWay program the EPA states the program has reduced Nox, the smog causing toxic organic compound, by 2,600,000 metric tons. They also state the program has helped to reduce the particulate matter emissions by 110,000 metric tons. Programs like this are great because companies can join and are guaranteed to see results on the money invested in the technologies and techniques the EPA recommends.
One of the ways the SmartWay program states to help reduce emissions is to simply slow down. The EPA reports reducing speeds from seventy five miles per mile to seventy miles per hour could reduce carbon emissions by 900,000 metric tons. Furthermore reducing speeds from sixty five miles per hour to sixty miles per hour carbon emissions could be reduced by 3,900,000 metric tons. According to an article by Chelle Micklin, Con-Way Freight, a large trucking company, found when they reduced their speed limit governors on their trucks by three miles an hour; the company saved three point eight percent in fuel consumption. This netted the company a savings of eleven million dollars a year. Doing something like this requires little to no capital input from the company and the benefits are huge. According to National Geographic writer Josie Garthwaite, on average a truck that travels at sixty five miles an hour instead of seventy five miles an hour will consume twenty seven percent less fuel. Again hardly costs the company any money and savings can be enormous.
Another easy way the EPA states trucking companies can cut fuel consumption is through idle reduction. That is reducing the amount of time a truck sits at idle whether at a truck stop or on a job site. According to Chelle Micklin, U.S Express has an incentive program for drivers who reduce idle times. So if a company like U.S Express offers incentives to drivers how are they able to monitor idle times? Newer trucks have computers very similar to the systems that are in the cars we drive every day that allow a company to purchase software that will allow them to go in and monitor something like idle times. Previously mentioned Con-Way freight used this technology to turn down the speed governors on their trucks to achieve the savings I discussed earlier. The EPA reports idle reduction could reduce carbon emissions by two point nine million metric tons. According to the SmartWay program one way a company can reduce their idle times is by investing in an APU, auxiliary power unit, which provides power to a truck for creature comforts like lights and a television without having to run the main engine. According to the ATA however APU’s cost on average about eight thousand dollars and then there is a twelve percent tax on top of that. So according to the ATA the government is sending the wrong message here, the ATA says that the government needs to step in and make some financial incentives for companies looking to go green not make it more costly. I would agree, if the government wants to encourage companies to be more fuel efficient why not make the technology more economically appealing or offer some kind of way to keep the upfront cost of implementing these technologies down. With the economy as tight as it is the ATA says some companies are at a catch twenty two, companies can’t afford the fuel expenses but then can’t afford the new technology that’s supposed to help the company cut their fuel expenses.
The EPA estimates that twenty one percent of a truck’s energy is lost through aerodynamic inefficiencies. The SmartWay program suggests that improved truck aerodynamics could reduce the carbon emissions by 1,200,000 metric tons. Purchasing newer equipment helps, because newer equipment has been designed with better aerodynamics in mind. Manufacturers are making trucks with fairings. Fairings are usually made of fiberglass and go on top of the truck’s cab in order to make it as tall as the trailer, and to take up the gap between the truck and trailer, in order to keep air moving efficiently along the truck and trailers surface. These same concepts can be applied to the trailers hauled as well. According to the EPA carbon emissions could be reduced by one point nine million metric tons through better trailer aerodynamics. Things like “side skirts” can be put onto the trailers to take up the gap between the bottom of the trailer and the road. This keeps air moving efficiently down the side of the trailer. Another aerodynamic improvement the SmartWay program suggests is if a company’s truck doesn’t have a fairing to put a nose cone on the trailer. A nose cone makes the trailer more bulleted shaped as compared to the regular rectangle shape. Through better aerodynamic manufacturers can now use smaller more efficient engines to haul the same amount of freight with less fuel consumption. Or better known as weight to energy efficiency, which is how much energy it takes to move one ton of freight according to the EPA. The better the weight to energy efficiency the less energy, fuel in this case, is used to move the freight.
The EPA estimates that thirteen percent of trucks energy is lost due to rolling resistance, the friction between the tires and the road surface. The EPA suggests trucking companies can implement wide based tires to reduce the rolling resistance and lower the weight of the truck. The trucking industry calls these wide based tires super singles. Instead of eight rear wheels common on most trucks, trucks outfitted with a super single will have four rear wheels. The EPA estimates a four to five percent increase in efficiency by implementing this technology. They typically run at a higher pressure than the regular design which helps the truck roll easier and more efficiently. Companies can save three to five percent on fuel just by keeping the tires properly inflated according to the EPA. The EPA also states using wide based tires could reduce emissions by 2,300,000 metric tons. Again though, a big downside for companies wanting to implement this technology is the cost. With no government incentives companies are left to bear the full cost of implementing this technology. If we want companies to invest in “greener” technologies we need to make those technologies more cost effective. Take for example Egypt, in Egypt virtually every taxi is run off of natural gas. Why hasn’t something like that caught on here in the United States? According to Josie Garthwaite, conversion kits have been made available to companies at no upfront cost to the company. The government and banks have subsidized the kits which companies then pay back through a small fee at the pump. So there is a huge benefit to companies in Egypt willing to switch.
Bio-Fuels are a great alternative to fossil fuels. Companies like Fed-Ex, UPS, and AT&T are at the forefront of this technology in the United States. According to Michelle Micklin, Fed-Ex is planning on having a hydrogen cell semi-truck in operation in the next few years. With hydrogen cell technology the only emission from the exhaust is water. According to Josie Garthwaite, UPS bought forty eight natural gas trucks for about two hundred thousand dollars apiece. A standard diesel version would cost just over one hundred thousand dollars. With an expense like that most companies aren’t looking to bio-fuels as an option. Iran, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and India have over a million cars and trucks that currently use natural gas instead of petroleum based fuels. As mentioned before conversion kits in these countries have been subsidized by the government and banks so there are no upfront cost to companies wanting to implement this technology. These conversions not only help companies control fuel costs but help consumers through lower shipping costs. According to Josie Garthwaite, natural gas averages are a dollar fifty less than diesel. Bio-fuels are not common in the United States, in part because, according to Garthwaite, the United States has only around one thousand natural gas service stations. Moreover, the United States has no incentives program for companies looking to invest in bio-fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. According to Garthwaite, AT&T spent three hundred fifty million dollars on eight thousand natural gas vehicles. That comes out to about forty four thousand a vehicle as compared to according to Garthwaite about twenty to thirty thousand for a normal gas version. If technologies like these were made available to companies at a lower cost I think more companies would switch to natural gas or other bio-fuels and the companies that have already switched I would bet would use the technology more.
How are common citizens to understand the importance of the environmental impact of trucking companies? First and foremost are the health implications. In March of 2008 the California Air Resource Board did a report on the town of West Oakland and found that due to West Oakland’s location between three major freeways and a large port where on average fifteen hundred trucks pass through daily, there are twelve hundred excess cancers per million people. The lifespan of residents is six years shorter than towns just ten miles away. Remember back to those toxic organic compounds and particulate matter, the increase numbers of cancers and decreased life expectancy in West Oakland are proof those emissions are affecting peoples health. Second, there are the economic implications of higher fuel costs. The ATA states that in the first quarter of 2008 nineteen hundred trucking companies went out of business, the largest amount of failures since 2001. The ATA attributes these failures to the rising costs of fuel, over the past fifteen years fuel prices have tripled. How do higher fuel prices affect you? Not only does it cost you more at the pump. But it ends up making every product you buy cost more. According to Hiroko Kawai a writer for the Colorado Business Magazine, trucking accounts for seventy percent of all goods transported in the United States. That amounts to nearly twenty four billion dollars in 2008 according to Hiroko. That means twenty four billion dollars’ worth of the consumer goods came via truck. If companies don’t get their fuel costs under control the costs of things we buy are going to higher and higher. Trucks are inherently bad for the environment as is any fossil fuel burning piece of equipment, however ton for ton diesel trucks are the most efficient means of transportation there is. According to the EPA the average passenger vehicle would have to get one hundred sixty miles per gallon to get the same weight to energy efficiency as a heavy duty truck. So that means trucks are here for the long haul. Due to in part by the way the United States infrastructure is designed. Trucks can go most places cars can go making them the best way to get a lot of freight from point a to point b efficiently and safely. The safety part is the part companies need to work on. Not just in terms of accidents but in terms of health hazards. West Oakland is a great example of why the issue should matter. Six years of your life span is a lot to lose. The EPA is a great place for companies to go and take a look at not only how a company’s emissions are affecting the air around us, but a great place to start looking at proven solutions to get better fuel efficiency.
Garthwaite, Josie. “Smarter Trucking Saves Fuel Over the Long Haul.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 23 Sept. 2011. Web. 01 Nov. 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/09/110923-fuel-economy-for-trucks/>.
Garthwaite, Josie. “Trading Oil for Natural Gas in the Truck Lane.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 02 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/09/110902-natural-gas-fuel-for-trucks/>.
Kawai, Hiroko. “Guest Column: Trucking Industry Needs to Get in Gear with the TimesColorado Business Magazine”. 1 Nov. 2009. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cobizmag.com/articles/guest-column-trucking-industry-needs-to-get-in-gear-with-the-times/>.
Micklin, Chelle. “Green Initiatives Good for Trucking Companies, Environment – Truck Driver Training | Driver Solutions.” 28 Dec. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <http://blog.greatcdltraining.com/blog/preparing-for-truck-driver-training/green-initiatives-good-for-trucking-companies-environment>.
“Trucks Deliver a Cleaner Tomorrow | American Trucking Associations.” Web. 09 Oct. 2012. <http://www.trucksdeliver.org/index.html>.
“US Environmental Protection Agency.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
Windsor, Barbara. “Why Diesel Fuel Prices Have Been so High, and.” 23 Sept. 2008. Web. 2 Nov. 2012. <http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=what%20is%20the%20trucking%20industry%20doing%20about%20fuel%20consumption&source=web&cd=10&ved=0CFYQFjAJ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.energy.senate.gov%2Fpublic%2Findex.cfm%2Ffiles%2Fserve%3FFile_id%3D8f9ae668-a9d7-cf19-a61a-54e53a2cb029&ei=HeKRUNyaOeyDyAGoh4GwBw&usg=AFQjCNGh1Gqrt5hLO6mPlxmNg4TWbPoe5g>.