Why I run green

| April 02, 2008

Eliminating idling saves fuel and reduces wear and tear on his Detroit Diesel Series 60, says Brian Coleman. Idling “breaks down the oil so it’s not protecting your engine,” he says.

‘It’s quite a savings’
Brian Coleman finds investing in the environment boosts his bottom line.

Owner-operator Brian Coleman of Tacoma, Wash., describes his environmentally friendly operation as a “50-50″ proposition: He does it 50 percent out of concern for the environment and 50 percent because it makes good business sense.

Coleman frequently runs through California, where strict anti-idling laws left him no choice but to find an alternative, he says. “If you want to run in California, and you idle more than 5 minutes, it’s a $600 to $700 fine,” he says. He found the solution to his problem in an I-5 sign promoting Cascade Sierra Solutions, a nonprofit group devoted to upgrading owner-operator trucks along the I-5 corridor with environmentally responsible technology.

In late 2007, Coleman outfitted his 2000 Freightliner FLD with an Idle Solutions auxiliary power unit, an oil purification system and wide single tires for a grand total of about $19,000, financed through Cascade Sierra. Having the APU, Coleman added a TV, a microwave and a good-size refrigerator. The appliances added weight, as did the 680-pound APU (California does not allow a weight variance for APUs). But putting on super singles cut about 500 pounds in tire weight, “plus I get better fuel mileage, and the truck rides better,” he says.

Last year, before he had the APU, Coleman used IdleAire for 707 hours. Because idling burns about 1 gallon of fuel per hour, he figures he saved 707 gallons of fuel. At $3.33 per gallon (his average last year), that’s around $2,400. He figures his APU burns only an eighth of a gallon per hour, without IdleAire fees that average $2.18 per hour. “It’s quite a savings,” he says.

The oil purification system is another sound investment, Coleman says. Before, he typically had his oil changed every six weeks, spending $300 each time. Now, “they say we can go 200,000 miles between oil changes,” he says. “That’s almost a year and a half.” Coleman figures he saves about $3,500 per year in oil changes and produces about 150 fewer gallons of waste oil. “The engine runs cooler, and the oil pressure is down 5 pounds or so,” he says.

With the possibility that diesel prices will continue to rise, Coleman is embracing every fuel-saving measure he can find. He has ordered a tire pressure monitoring system for his truck because you lose one-tenth mile per gallon for every pound your tires are under, he says. He also watches his speed, preferring to run 60 or 65, even in 70 mph zones. Saving fuel is all about “knowing your truck, the load, the conditions and where you’re going,” he says.

Coleman also is exploring biodiesel. Right now, “the value is more environmental than cost,” he says. “But from what I’ve read they are bringing it along, and it’s cheaper and cheaper.” Which only proves his point: In the long run, being environmentally conscious “is going to save me money,” he says.


‘To keep the air clean’
Karen Barnett wants her family – and the world – to breathe easier.

Unscrew a ballpoint pen, and try to breathe through the tube that holds the ink cartridge. That’s what it’s like to suffer an asthma attack, says Karen Barnett of Barnett’s Trucking, Lyford, Texas. A lifelong asthmatic, Barnett says the condition is exacerbated by air pollution, especially emissions at truck stops and loading docks. “You’ve got guys just sitting at a dead idle, putting raw pollutants out,” Barnett says. “That’s devastating on a set of lungs.”

Barnett’s husband, Lecil, and son, Lewis, also suffer from asthma, fueling in Barnett a passion to do her part to clean the air. “You’ll see no physical exhaust fumes from our trucks,” she says with pride. Last year, when Barnett’s two trucks needed their exhaust systems replaced, she had an aftertreatment filter installed to reduce emissions. “They’re expensive,” she says, “but the only thing coming out of our exhaust stacks is hot air.”

Beyond improving her family’s health, Barnett is well aware that most clean-air efforts also reduce fuel consumption, save on engine wear and tear and just make good business sense. To save on fuel, the company’s trucks are aero models, which average from 5.8 mpg to 6.7 mpg.

To reduce idling and fuel use, in 2004 Barnett spent $21,000 to equip her company trucks with auxiliary power units. “They used hardly any fuel at all,” she says. But shortly after the units were installed, components started breaking, and she couldn’t get them repaired. Then the seller went out of business. Now those units are sitting out in the barn, she says. “They were wonderful when they worked.”

To keep drivers warm in winter while limiting idling, Barnett equips sleepers with bunk heating pads that plug into the cigarette lighter. When the weather’s pleasant, she encourages drivers to roll down the windows instead of running the air-conditioning. And where it’s available, Barnett pays for drivers to use IdleAire.

Barnett watches fuel consumption closely, “for economic purposes and to make sure these guys are doing everything they can to try to keep the air clean,” she says. She taps into the engine computers to track time spent idling and using cruise control. “If they run low idle, high cruise, we give them a bonus,” she says. “If not, we sit them down and talk to them again.”

Ultimately, clean air is everyone’s responsibility, Barnett says. “The Lord created a perfect environment,” she says. “We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. It’s a perfect circle, and here we are messing it up. Taking out the green stuff and putting in the crud.”


‘Oil will eventually run out’
Michael Frybarger wants to lower our dependence on non-renewable fuels.

For owner-operator Michael Frybarger, championing alternative fuels is not about trends or political correctness. It’s about life or death. “If not only this country but the whole world doesn’t get on the fast track toward another fuel source, then we’re doomed,” he says.

To do his part, Frybarger has been using biodiesel as much as possible for about three years. “I’m such a fan because it’s something I can do in my business,” he says. The Thurmont, Md., independent got interested in biodiesel when he read about it in the local paper. “I thought it was a good idea: better for the air, good for the farmers. Then I got to the price of it.”

That was the late 1990s, when a gallon of diesel cost $1, but biodiesel was $2.50 per gallon. When diesel prices started climbing, Frybarger heard Willie Nelson talking about biodiesel on Bill Mack’s show on XM Satellite Radio. Frybarger started doing research and learned that some scientists believe we’ve used up half the world’s oil.

“Fuel, asphalt, rubber – all are made from it,” he says. “No one will argue with you that oil will eventually run out. I started thinking of what the ramifications of that would be.”

This led Frybarger to get serious about using biodiesel. He’s had no problems fueling his 500-hp Cummins N14 with it, but because he pulls oversized loads of varying shapes on a step deck, it’s difficult to determine the real effect on his fuel mileage. His best was 8.2 mpg on a five-day trip from Texas to Washington where he drove 60 mph hauling a light load.

Frybarger calls his right foot “the best fuel conservation equipment there is. For every mile per hour over 55 you lose one-tenth of a gallon.” He cruises at about 63 mph because he says that’s where his 2000 Volvo 770 gets the best mileage.

Another way Frybarger conserves fuel is with the Idlebuster auxiliary power unit he bought in 2005. The unit has 4,000 hours on it. “That’s 4,000 hours I would have been idling my truck, using about 1 gallon per hour,” he says. In contrast, the APU has burned only about 600 gallons.

Frybarger’s dream is to travel to truck stops and schools with a specially outfitted truck and trailer to teach people about renewable energy. “Who I’m doing all this for is the future generations,” he says. “I don’t want my grandkids fighting wars or having a bad life because people in this era didn’t start taking steps to replace oil.”


‘Biotrucker’ also a green revolutionary
Michael Frybarger looks for any way possible to promote alternative fuels. His e-mail address includes “biotrucker.” He’s set up a website to promote renewable energy: MySpace.com\biotrucker. And he participated in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay event at the 2007 Great American Trucking Show.

But perhaps his most high-profile effort is a role in the independent documentary Revolution Green: A True Story of Biodiesel in America, which features Willie Nelson and is narrated by film actor and environmentalist Woody Harrelson. Frybarger attended the premiere, held on Earth Day 2007 in Newport Beach, Calif.

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