Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Fun with numbers: Cutting fuel use by 30%

| November 29, 2012

It’s often interesting, if not downright amusing, to see what gets published about trucking from those outside the industry.

Midwest Energy News covered a report released by the Carbon War Room this week about fuel-saving technology. CWR says the right equipment and systems could save a heavy-duty truck $26,400 a year in fuel, meaning the upgrades would pay for themselves in 18 months.

The report claims aerodynamic upgrades can reduce fuel use by as much as 15 percent.

The CWR report assumes 130,000 miles a year, 6.5 miles per gallon and $4 diesel. It also assumes 2,500 hours a year spent idling, which sounds more like habits from 1972, not today. It all yields an $88,000 fuel bill. Cutting it by $26,400 means a 30% reduction.

Even the SmartWay program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has plenty of incentive to stretch the truth for self-serving purposes, isn’t so bold. It says it has “identified a suite of vehicle designs and equipment” that “can” reduce fuel use by 10 percent to 20 percent. And you can bet the norm is closer to 10 than 20.

CWR says it is a non-profit group whose “mission is to harness the power of entrepreneurs to unlock market-driven solutions to climate change.” So has it unlocked some miracle technology that trucking was unaware of?

No. As for hardware, the report cites these potential savings:

  • Aerodynamic upgrades (3-15 percent)
  • Anti-idling equipment (5-9 percent)
  • Tires with low rolling resistance (3-6 percent)
  • New transmission systems (2.5-6 percent)
  • Adaptive cruise control (5-10 percent)

Other promising technology involves communication systems, since anything that improves logistics and driver behavior is going to save fuel.

Most of us have never heard of the Carbon War Room. Few would quibble with its stated mission to encourage entrepreneurs – not government agencies – to use their inventiveness to produce better equipment for cutting fuel costs and reducing emissions. It’s a shame that groups such as this too often lose their credibility by playing fast and loose with their claims.

Big fleets, which have the money to invest in new technology and the data systems to monitor the return on investment, have examined all the technologies cited by CWR. All have found some degree of market acceptance, but it’s misleading to indicate that wholesale adaptation of them all will cut a truck’s fuel costs by $26,400 a year.