A better mousetrap

| December 12, 2008

“I have been idle-free for the last five years,” says Robert Jordan, with the pride of a man who’s kicked a bad habit and has no intention of ever picking it up again.

Jordan, Overdrive 2006 Trucker of the Year, has reason to be proud. By eliminating a practice that costs the trucking industry nearly $2 billion each year, he’s accomplished what few owner-operators or trucking companies have even attempted. And he’s done it even though he logs 150,000 miles a year, many of them through harsh Midwest winters.

Jordan invented two patent-pending systems (see this site) that store energy, produced as the truck runs down the road, in a battery bank. The energy is then converted into 120-volt AC, which is used to power the truck’s comfort devices. Jordan says using the systems saves him about $6,000 a year in fuel.

With $2.50 per gallon diesel the norm, truckers who fail to follow Jordan’s lead are watching their profits dissipate in smoke. They are also increasingly at risk for substantial fines: Idling in New York’s South Bronx for longer than five minutes, for example, can bring a $1,000 ticket.

By 2008, new trucks that enter California must be equipped with a system that automatically shuts down the engine after five minutes of continuous idling. Those with older trucks will have to use alternative technologies such as auxiliary power units to idle beyond the five-minute cutoff.

The writing is on the wall: Neither your pocketbook nor the environment can tolerate idling much longer. Yet even though numerous anti-idling products are available for new trucks and the aftermarket, most carriers and owner-operators seem unable to embrace a comprehensive idling solution. Even Schneider National, one of the nation’s largest truckload carriers, has equipped its trucks with heaters but has yet to find a cost-effective cooling option. While many federal grants have funded electrical systems at truck stops, that solution only scratches the surface of the problem.

That’s what makes Jordan’s accomplishment so extraordinary. He converted his 1997 Mack CH600 into an energy-efficient, idle-free machine without federal grant money, an engineering staff or substantial financial resources. He developed his systems through trial and error and hours spent pondering common-sense solutions to real-world problems while driving down the road.

Jordan may have built a better anti-idling solution. Let’s see whether the industry beats a path to his door.

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