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3 Important Innovations Fueling the Trucking Industry

For several years now, the ideas of going green, sustainability and clean energy have gained more and more attention from consumers, policy makers and the media. This attention stems from a larger political and social conversation about climate change and the amount of greenhouse gases that our society produces and pumps into the atmosphere each year.

Within individual companies, sustainability can mean a variety of things. For some, it is one way to conserve finite resources and work efficiently. Others view it as a way to improve environmental conditions. Still others see it only as regulatory policies that must be followed. According to the American Transportation Research Institute, though, sustainability is “defined as those actions and activities that support economic, environmental and equity goals.

Due to the political nature of sustainability, the government has created and passed regulations that the trucking industry must follow in an attempt to control the amount of emissions from semi-trucks. Not only do these regulations provide sustainability best practices, but they also have the ability to drastically decrease the cost of fuel for businesses.

The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles provides a set of standards for engine manufacturers to follow to produce energy-efficient vehicles. Not only does this decrease CO2 emissions by an approximate 1.1 billion metric tons, but it “promotes a new generation of cleaner, more fuel efficient trucks by encouraging the development and deployment of new and advanced cost-effective technologies” and will save vehicle owners approximately $170 billion just in fuel costs.

This policy shows how sustainability measures taken by businesses can actually serve a dual purpose. Sustainability initiatives will keep trucking companies in good standing with government regulators and also has the ability to reduce their fuel and maintenance costs. On a larger scale, sustainability efforts provide a unique opportunity for innovation throughout the industry as a whole.

Sustainability and Aerodynamics

One way for businesses to cut down on CO2 emissions and fuel costs is through tractor and trailer aerodynamics. Manufacturers have experimenting with design aspects of trucks to see how they affect fuel efficiency. They are analyzing aspects like windshield angles and sun visor sizes to see how that affects fuel consumption. This doesn’t mean that your business has to run out and find newer trucks in order to get these same benefits. Some of these design aspects, like roof fairings, can be added to existing trucks and reduce fuel consumption by 7-10 percent.

Similarly to the trucks themselves, trailers are also being experimented on to see how aerodynamics can affect fuel consumption. Side fairings, typically used for long-haul operations, are estimated to save 3-7 percent on fuel consumption. Also like trucks, these aerodynamic design aspects can be added to existing assets.

Sustainability and Engines

Changes to the political landscape within the trucking industry has been named as one of the key factors for engine innovation throughout the country. While earlier regulations simply decreased the allowable emissions from trucks, new legislation is trying to address the decreasing fuel economy trend that earlier policies caused. Now there are different technologies that can be utilized to cut down on the emissions released, and increase fuel efficiency like turbocharging, improved driveline efficiency and the reduction of engine friction to name just a few.

Sustainability and Fuel

Though not nearly as common as fuel efficiency initiatives, another sustainability option is changing the type of fuel your trucks use. There are options now that reduce carbon emissions in a variety of price ranges. However, many managers complain about the lack of widespread availability and mature market. Environmental advocacy groups still tout the benefits of electrification and alternative fuels, despite the industry’s reticence to accept infrastructural change. Perhaps we will see the advancement of alternative fuels in the coming years, but for now the change is slow moving.

No matter what kind of sustainability procedure you enact, the final factor is going to be your drivers. If you don’t have buy-in from them, or if they don’t have the correct knowledge, your initiative will not succeed. Communication is key when it comes to educating your drivers on sustainable driving practices.

The American Transportation Research Institute and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute predict that the trucking industry will deliver 17 percent more freight over the course of the next decade. Given the current political and social climate, as well as the anticipated increase in need, fleet managers need to look at their sustainability initiatives and determine ways to better manage their fleets, not only for the environment, but also for their own company’s sake. 

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