Environmental Defense Fund
These improvements can reduce both carbon emissions and expenses
No matter the product type or its original destination, it probably arrived at c-stores by a work truck. The capacity, flexibility and convenience of these vehicles is impressive. The use of these trucks comes at a price, though, in terms of environmental impact. Each year work trucks use a lot of fuel — more than 8 billion gallons. The combustion of this large amount of fuel emits a staggering 80 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
The emissions and fuel consumption levels of these vehicles do not need to be this high, though. There are many strategies that can be employed today to increase truck efficiency, reduce costs and cut emissions. Whether an owner of a chain of convenience stores with its own trucks, or a supplier of stores, the physical and operational improvements outlined below can help reduce truck fleet fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Move to lower GVW trucks. Lighter and less powerful trucks are more fuel efficient. A company can reduce fuel use significantly by "right-sizing" its fleet — selecting trucks that are no larger or more powerful than necessary for their application. Avoid the common pitfalls of spec'ing the entire fleet based on a "greatest power demand" scenario, when such a scenario can be served with a few larger vehicles. Within the same GVW (gross vehicle weight) class, it may be possible to choose a more efficient engine that can do the job at hand.
Consider high-efficiency, advanced technology vehicles. Hybrid electric vehicles, hydraulic hybrids and electric vehicles all have the potential to increase the fuel efficiency of trucks and reduce emissions. Fuel efficiency improvements between 15 percent and 50 percent are likely from these advanced technology engines. These vehicles are particularly well suited for urban pickup and delivery, and other short haul markets. They are also a good fit for fleets with auxiliary power needs, such as utility trucks, which can draw power from the electric battery to run onboard equipment, eliminating idling and further increasing fuel savings.
Deploy alternative power sources for auxiliary operations. Alternative power for auxiliary operation can reduce fuel use. Examples include using electric motors instead of the truck engine to operate hydraulics on auto carriers and to power the operation of lift gates, and the use of cold plates in refrigeration units.
Install routing software. Vehicle tracking and routing software can monitor fleet operations and ensure vehicles use the most efficient routes and maintain schedules. Fleets with dense multi-stop delivery networks are likely to benefit the most from software solutions to improve routing. Improved routing reduces unnecessary mileage, which also reduces fuel consumption. The level of fuel and emissions savings from this strategy will vary greatly depending on a fleet's operating characteristics.
Reduce vehicle tare weight. By reducing the tare (empty) weight of the truck, fuel economy is improved. Less weight reduces both inertial loads and rolling resistance. Fuel economy savings can be particularly substantial in smaller truck classes because tare weight makes up a larger portion of gross vehicle weight. Tare weight can be reduced through the use of lightweight components, such as aluminum wheels and other body parts.
Install automatic engine shutdown. Approximately 7 percent of all single-unit truck fuel use is associated with idling, and this percentage is much higher for certain types of trucks. Reducing engine idling is an opportunity for all truck fleets. Any fleets whose drivers make frequent stops or wait in their vehicles for long periods may benefit from the use of idling-control technologies. Automatic engine shutdown can be programmed through the electronic control module (ECM). Trucks that lack an ECM-based shutdown capability can utilize available retrofit technologies.
Make transmission adjustments. The fuel efficiency of a truck is heavily influenced by the transmission and engine throttle operation. It is often possible to reprogram the automatic transmission control unit so that trucks upshift at lower speeds. Factory settings for automatic transmissions are often based on maximizing power, not fuel economy. Of course, it is important to look closely at duty cycle to make sure you aren't underpowering the vehicle, which can be just as bad from a fuel and maintenance perspective.
Limit vehicle speeds. Speed reduction is one of the most effective strategies for improving fuel efficiency. Truck power requirements (and fuel use) tend to increase in an exponential manner above 40 miles per hour (mph), so limiting top highway speeds is a particularly effective way to save fuel. Many fleets choose to limit their trucks' top speed to between 60 and 65 mph.
Install aerodynamic improvements. Aerodynamic resistance can be improved by lowering a vehicle's drag coefficient. All vehicles can benefit from a more aerodynamic cab design, which can include the design of the front bumper, grill, hood and mirrors. For single- unit trucks with van-style bodies, there are additional potential benefits from improving the aerodynamics of the cargo space. Aftermarket devices are designed for medium-duty trucks.
Engage drivers in reductions. How a vehicle is operated significantly affects fuel consumption and emissions. The drivers of a company's vehicles have a vital role to play in reaching corporate greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Inform drivers about these habits and provide clear guidance on their adoption. Consider providing drivers with performance incentives to encourage fuel-smart driving practices.
Operational practices matter too. The most environmentally friendly vehicle is the one that isn't running. There are several strategies that can help avoid future truck trips by maximizing the use of each load.
Increase truck loading. Where truck loading can be increased, more freight can be moved with fewer trips. Some truck carriers have been able to increase the number of pallets loaded in a standard trailer by "pin-wheeling" the pallets. By turning every other pallet 90 degrees, a standard trailer can hold 26-28 pallets. However, the pallets used must be special "double-entry" pallets, which can be accessed by a forklift from all four sides. Trailers with aluminum plate walls, which have a few more inches of interior width, can use "turned loading" where every pallet is turned 90 degrees compared to the standard loading. This technique can increase cargo capacity 15 percent.
Reduce packaging ma terials. Use innovative strategies to decrease the packaging size and material. Smaller, lighter packaging leaves more room for additional cargo, which can mean fewer shipments. Additionally, lighter cargo loads can mean fewer emissions per delivery. Reusing packaging where possible will also help reduce waste.
Avoid empty miles. Upwards of 20 percent of trucks on the road are empty. Taking advantage of trips that are already underway can avoid additional trips. A variety of load-matching services are now available that allow vehicles delivering goods to fill empty backhauls by identifying loads available for pickup close by.
As you consider implementing one or more of these strategies, it is important to understand your starting point. Successful freight environmental management means actively measuring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions over time. Ask suppliers for carbon dioxide emissions data. If you operate your own fleets, track fuel consumption. Consider setting an emissions reduction goal, which can provide structure for your "greening" efforts.
Jason Mathers is a green fleet project manager with the Environmental Defense Fund and can be contacted at [email protected].
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.