Silence Would Be Golden

The idea of drastically reducing engine idling is nothing new. Environmental groups constantly lobby for it, fleets and truckstops are interested in it, and most over-the-road truckers should welcome the day when they can routinely, and comfortably, shut down for the night without the droning of an engine singing them to sleep.

A few, mainly owner-operators, have found some success with the few idle-reduction options that are available today. They range from generators to inverters/chargers to optimized idle engines.

The majority of drivers still find that turning off their engines leaves them powerless – no way to heat or cool the cab or enjoy the critter comforts for any extended period. Tractors wired for shore power are limited when it comes to outside power sources. Truckstop electrification, for the most part, has been a coined phrase for what the future could hold. Coming up with a cost-efficient way to build the infrastructure at truckstops, terminals and distribution centers is one obstacle. (Experts estimate that it costs between $2,500 and $3,750 to electrify a parking space.) Another is the demand to justify it.

Taking the latter first, it seems like most long-haul truckers would be more than willing to use shore power if it was readily available. The savings to truckers and fleets are impressive.

According to Argonne National Laboratories, the average trucker idles his tractor 1,800 hours per year. Using an average of one gallon of diesel per hour burned idling and last year’s average fuel price of $1.45, that’s more than $2,600 out the smoke stacks. When you factor in engine wear and maintenance costs, idling costs are even greater.

In addition, the Department of Energy estimates that idling releases 10.4 million tons of carbon dioxide, 59,000 tons of oxides from nitrogen and 97,000 tons of carbon monoxide into the air every year. Many local and state governments are cracking down on idling because it produces noise and air pollution.

If there is demand for the services that reduce idling, savvy business types will find ways, through partnerships and/or by political means aimed at getting federal incentives in the name of clean air, to help offset costs.

At least one company thinks it has the answer now. IdleAire Technologies Corp. of Knoxville, Tenn., has designed a truck parking space system that offers air conditioning, computer access, electricity, a telephone line and other services for an hourly fee. The system feeds into the truck window through a flexible tube from an overhead truss.

IdleAire announced at the recent NATSO Show 2002 that it has inked a deal with Petro Stopping Centers to install its system, starting this month, at Petros across the country. TravelCenters of America has also agreed to field test the system at three of its Texas facilities. The company says it is also close to closing deals with other truckstops and trucking terminals.

IdleAire launched a pilot program with three units at a New York Thruway rest stop and at Hunts Point Distribution Center. The program was so successful that the Thruway Authority is adding 44 additional modules.

If truckers quickly embrace idle-free services, there are likely to be other innovations popping up in the near future. Fuel cell technology may be available for commercial trucks within the next few years. At the moment, the price tag for onboard fuel cells is the great unknown.

Perhaps one day in the not so distant future, all truckers, whether through electrification, curbside hybrid systems or onboard power plants, will be able to enjoy more of the luxuries of home while on the road without the costly consequences of running their motors.

It sounds quiet pleasant, doesn’t it?

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