The green squeeze

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A perfect storm of rising fuel costs, tighter emissions regulations and environmental concerns drives investments and innovation in APUs.

Early in March, the Federal Highway Administration issued final guidance to states to allow up to 400 pounds of extra weight on long-haul tractor-trailers if outfitted with an anti-idling device. The guidance acted on a recommendation made in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed by President Bush on July 29 of that year, which strongly encouraged the greening of the over-the-road trucking industry through eliminating excessive idling to reduce emissions and minimize fuel consumption.

Some fleets and owner-operators have recognized that going green can also save them green via fuel savings – a long-haul truck without an auxiliary power unit, according to EPA estimates, could use 1,900 gallons of fuel a year just idling. Greening can also help companies steer clear of anti-idling fines and improve their image in the face of changing perceptions about global warming.

“The issue is definitely picking up steam,” says Sharon Banks, CEO of Cascade Sierra Solutions, an environmental outreach group to the trucking industry. “When we see these glaciers melting and just dropping into the ocean, it’s pretty scary.”

Since fuel prices spiked at upwards of $3 a gallon nationwide after Hurricane Katrina, numerous manufacturers small and large have entered the APU market, and the results have been increased efficiency for fleets, better sleep and higher quality of life for drivers, and fatter wallets for all involved, especially owner-operators.

For the good of the company
“I like to run east and north,” says Mike Brown, a Selina County, Tenn.-based 27-year veteran driver for R.E. West, Inc, a 140-tractor fleet out of Ashland City, Tenn. Brown’s “not your average driver – he’ll tell it to you like it is,” says company president Bob West. All those miles in the northern regions of the United States made him the perfect test-driver in West’s search for the likewise perfect APU.

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In late 2004, West bought 14 “Idle Solutions” APUs, an aftermarket package offered by Freightliner as a factory install. He’d begun exploring anti-idling devices for his fleet after 9/11, as fuel prices began to steadily climb and anti-idling laws became more and more prevalent. He started with the truck and engine OEMs themselves, looking for an engine with a foolproof automatic shutdown and a truck body with a sufficient insulation package to allow an auxiliary in-cab heater to keep the truck warm in extremely cold weather.

He found his answer in a Freightliner Columbia with a Mercedes engine set to cut off after three minutes of continuous idling. “The driver then just has to flip a switch in the sleeper and that APU’s running,” he says. The APU itself is made up of a Temco generator with a single-cylinder Kubota engine and a Dometic electricity-driven auxiliary HVAC installed under the bunk in the 70-inch condo-type factory sleeper.

R.E. West driver Brown got one of the original 14 units the company bought in 2004 to test them. “They like to froze me to death until we got the bugs worked out of them,” Brown says. He’d been on a run to Minnesota, where the temperature “dropped to 11 below,” he says. “It wouldn’t keep the cab warm.”

Brown went to a Wal-Mart close to where he was parked, on the advice of West, and bought an electric space heater, running it off the power output of the generator in the APU package. This worked as a temporary solution to the problem, but West met with Freightliner and reported his findings. The company responded by recommending their “arctic” insulation package. Says West, “We’re on the third generation of insulation package on that truck.”

Finally, they’ve found a solution that works.

“You sleep so much better with this APU,” says Brown. “You don’t hear anything. There’s no vibration on the truck, hardly any road noise either with that insulation.” In the past, Brown says, he’d experimented with a fast idle, using even more fuel, and even put an air mattress under the main mattress in his bunk to reduce the vibrations from the main engine and get some solid sleep. Nothing worked before the APU.

In addition to fuel savings and better sleep, Brown credits the unit with a newfound health consciousness. By dining in his bunk, outfitted with a refrigerator in summer and a microwave year-round, he not only keeps his salt intake down but saves himself and his carrier money. “Whatever you microwave at home you can fix here,” he says. “I’ve got a little age on me now – I’m 56. I just load up at Wal-Mart on low-sodium soups. Sometimes I bring stuff from home that I warm up – while you’re waiting to get loaded, you can cook a decent meal.”

Comfort and health on the road for drivers translate to higher quality of life, which translates to better productivity and efficiency, says West. The company’s gotten idling time down from 46 percent to less than 10 percent, says West, on most of the trucks outfitted with the Idle Solutions package – about half the fleet – and less than 1 percent on many.

Owner-operator innovators
Recent recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership went to 13 for-hire and private fleets, including that of Wal-Mart, which has more than 7,000 tractors outfitted with idle-reduction technologies, the TriPac APU by Thermo King on most; Schneider National, which has more than 9,000 with fuel-fired heaters and a significant number of TriPacs on its owner-operator partners’ trucks; and the smaller O&S Trucking, with a number of TriPacs in addition to other technologies.

Interest in idle reduction has skyrocketed since the diesel price spike after Hurricane Katrina. Amy Egerter, marketing and communications manager for Toronto-based Rigmaster Power, a longtime maker of gen-sets for over-the-road operations, says the company has continued to manage 100 percent growth year to year, even with more than 10 competitors coming into the arena immediately after the mid-2005 Energy Policy Act weight-exemption recommendation for APUs.

But many drivers – particularly owner-operators – have seen the advantages of reduced idling for years. Egerter calls them “the leaders of the pack in terms of being willing to invest in new technologies. They’re the ones that look at their bottom lines – these products do save a ton of money.”

The 2007 Overdrive Owner-Operator Market Behavior Report, based on surveys of Overdrive magazine’s readers, notes that, while only 26 percent of owner-operators used an APU of some kind, those that did made $7,000 more every year.

Husband-wife owner-operator teams with big bunks and auxiliary RV-type generators, basically more powerful versions of the units on R.E. West’s trucks, are some of the trailblazers of today’s concerns about reduced idling. They’ve been powering their custom sleepers while stopped with these devices for years. Longtime sleeper manufacturer Double Eagle began producing its Gen-Pac diesel generator for trucks in the mid-1970s. “No one was making these back then,” says Vice President and Sales Manager Mark Woodworth.

Other teams like Jo Miller and Ed Richter, owner-operators leased to Landstar, took advantage of integrated APU technology when manufacturers were in the relatively early stages of development. They’ve had a Willis APU, made by Auxiliary Power Dynamics, on their rig since 2001. “It’s got a three-cylinder Kubota,” says Miller, “and we wanted it to be light overall, so it’s not a stand-alone unit. It’s integrated into the truck’s systems.”

At as little as 300 pounds, an integrated APU, in contrast to a gen-set-type solution, works with your truck’s existing heating and cooling systems, powering and controlling them when the truck is off. The Willis, like some others, can take control of the electric systems in the event of an alternator failure as well (it has a built-in capability of 150 amps of charging power) and can power automatic tire inflation systems. It keeps the engine and fuel tank warm, if needed, as do other integrated APUs as well as some gen-set-type solutions.

Such comprehensive, fully integrated solutions are becoming more prevalent in the market for anti-idling devices but remain less common because of their expense – most fully integrated and even comprehensive-gen-set-type APUs will average in the neighborhood of $10,000 installed, according to Watson – though conservative return-on-investment scenarios suggest payback times of less than two years if factoring in engine wear and tear as well as fuel.

More common are inexpensive fuel-fired heaters in cold climates. “I’ve got a lot of blankets,” says Cheyenne, Wyo.-based owner-operator Paul Brickman, “and I don’t idle until the temperature hits below 25 at night, 60 to 65 on the other end of the scale.”

These are simple, however partial, solutions – but other owner-operators are leading the charge in technological innovation, offering creative, lower-cost solutions.

Brothers Ray and Larry Paddock are now beginning to market a solar solution (see “APUs Proliferate,” page 38), and Robert Jordan, Overdrive’s Trucker of the Year for 2006, was featured in a March 7 story in the New York Times about his solution, the battery-driven Idle Free Reefer Link system, developed in the late 1990s (he was issued a patent for the technology just this year). His solution is “a perfect one if you’re pulling a reefer,” he says. The now former owner-operator landed a deal with Mack to offer Idle Free on its CX Pinnacle Axle Back tractor as an aftermarket factory install in March, introducing it at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

Idle Free utilizes a bank of four absorbed glass mat (or AGM) deep-cycle batteries recharged by the trailer’s reefer unit to power an auxiliary electrically driven air-conditioning system (with heat optional) in the sleeper – Jordan, after years of testing, recommends Dometic. Jordan adds an ESPAR fuel-fired heater to that combination to cover him in extremely cold weather if his reefer has to be powered off, in which case the batteries will only have 5 hours of power total. When running, the truck charges the batteries, and if down, the reefer takes over.

“The improvement in battery technology has been astounding,” Jordan says. He looks to a day when lithium-ion technology (currently common in electronic products like cell phones and being experimenting with in hybrid cars), with electrical power potential concentrated in ever smaller packages, progresses to the point of its feasibility. Jordan recently had a conversation with Cascade Sierra Solutions CEO Sharon Banks, in which they estimated the current cost of a lithium-ion battery to power a truck at around $48,000.

“But just 10 years ago the warranty on an AGM battery was only 2 years,” Jordan says. “Today you can buy an Odyssey AGM battery with a 12-year warranty.”

The batteries can also be charged, and the system run, by shore power, if you’re not running a reefer. At only 180 pounds hooked to a reefer, it’s a lighter total solution than most, and whether or not it suits all applications today, Jordan says, a battery-based solution “is what we will be using in the future.” Recent product offerings by truck OEMs seem to bear him out. At the Mid-America Trucking Show in March, both Kenworth and Peterbilt unveiled AGM battery-based anti-idling packages for certain new models, like the Kenworth T660, to be available this summer.

With no engine whatsoever, these solutions cut vibrations and noise completely with the exception of fans, and likewise anticipate the California Air Resources Board’s requirement that APU engines be compliant with all current emissions standards by Jan. 1, 2008, on trucks running 2007 engines. At MATS Thermo King introduced a “level 2” diesel particulate filter for their trailer products as well as the TriPac that President Ted Fick said in a press conference would meet that requirement.

When coming into the APU arena, Thermo King looked at battery-based technology as a possible route to take – at MATS, Fick called it the “greenest solution of all.” Carrier Transicold, maker of the ComfortPro, has done the same, but both companies came to similar conclusions. “Today we don’t believe that electrical energy storage technology is at a point where it can meet the needs of the long-haul applications,” says Eduardo Andrade, Carrier business manager for the ComfortPro. Fick said it wasn’t a “bad play long term” to fully invest in battery technologies and that company officials would keep their eyes on technology improvements.

Bob West also sees the value of innovation. “Every factor in the world that can cause you to spend more money is running against you as a trucker,” he says.

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel and new emissions-compliant engines are perhaps two of the least talked about market stimuli for APUs of all kinds. “With ULSD, the engines are running less fuel mileage,” West says. “Each new engine standard gets worse mileage than the last. The next generation is coming on right now. No one knows what cost it will add to the trucks in the long run – the number I’m hearing is $10,000 a truck. Some have said $6,000. And we don’t know how much the new engines will decrease the life cycle of the thing.”

A green squeeze is on, and the APU, whatever the type, is perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle as it relates to over-the-road trucking, the industry’s likewise green response to the quandary as it relates to both the environment and the bottom line.

“All those factors are going on,” West says, “and this APU is what you’re trying to do to deal with it, to stop the truck from idling.”

As idling laws proliferate, it’s good practice to keep an eye out for enforcement – it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but Bob West, president of R.E. West Trucking, says he knows of at least one state that’s really going after idlers: “In New Jersey they put up cameras at their travel plazas on the turnpike,” he says. “They’re determined that you’re not going to idle your truck, and they’re also determined to write you a ticket.”

The change is happening fairly rapidly, West says.

It’s also sweeping various Canadian municipalities, says Gary Murray of FleetSmart, a Canada-based efficiency education organization, including the greater Vancouver area, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. In April last year the Environmental Protection Agency issued a model state idling law.

Still, variance is common among the now more than 30 separate statutes that exist around the country. They’re charted on the map at right, based on current American Transportation Research Institute information. Unless otherwise noted, all times are max idling times and fines are minimums. Various exemptions exist, including for drivers in sleeper berths on rest (including in Arizona, Illinois and California, though the California sleeper exception expires at the beginning of next year), but many feel a national idling law is in our very near future.

You might tear out this map and keep it for future reference, or print out a handy cab card with complete info on the regulations at this site, click “Idling Regulations Compendium.”

City of Aspen, 5 min. in 1 hr. period, $1,000 max/prison
City and county of Denver, 10 min. in 1 hr. period, $999 max/prison

0 min. unattended, $750 max
Salt Lake County, 15 min., $1,000 max/prison

15 min., $100-$500
Clark County
(including Las Vegas),
15 min., $10,000 max
Washoe County (including
Reno), $250 max

5 min., $100
City of Sacramento, 5 min., $100
Placer County, 5 min., $50

Maricopa County, 5 min., $100

Cites of Austin, Bastrop, Elgin, Lockhart, Round Rock and San Marcos and Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties, 5 min. Apr.-Oct., fines vary

City of Minneapolis, 0 min. residential area, $700 max/prison
City of Owatonna, 15 min. in 5 hr. period, residential area, $1,000 max/prison
City of St. Cloud, 5 min. W. St. Germain St. 8th St. to 10th Ave., $200

Greater Chicago area: Aux Sable Township, Goose Lake Township, Oswego Township, Cook County, DuPage County, Lake County, Kane County, McHenry County, Will County, 10 min in 1 hr. period, $50
Greater St. Louis area: Madison County, St. Claire County, Monroe County, 10 min in 1 hr. period, $50

Allegheny County (including Pittsburgh),
5 min., warning
City of Philadelphia, 2 min., $300

New York
5 min., $375
New York City, 3 min., $50-$500/prison
City of New Rochelle, 5 min., $50 max/prison
Rockland County, 3 min., $375-$15,000

New Hampshire
5 min. above 32-F, fine TBD

5 min., $100

3 min., $5,000 max

New Jersey
3 min., $200

3 min., $50-$500

5 min., $500

Washington, D.C.
3 min., $500

10 min., $25,000 max

City of Atlanta, 15 min., $500

City of St. Louis, 10 min.,
St. Louis County, 3 min., $1,000 max/prison

Apus Proliferate –
New Options, Financing

In addition to the truck and engine OEMs, aftermarket-products manufacturers continue to enter the APU market and most offer financing programs. At the Mid-America Trucking Show in March, Dometic introduced its own solution, combining a replacement alternator that keeps auxiliary batteries fully charged when the truck is in use and Dometic’s own HVAC systems. The increasingly popular TriPac integrated hybrid system by reefer products giant Thermo King continues to develop. The company recently extended the service interval on the TriPac to 1,000 hours, as did Carrier Transicold on its ComfortPro unit.

Kohler Power Systems, in the power generation business for 85 years, entered the APU market at MATS this year with their lightweight generator and Dometic HVAC system. The engine is directly coupled to the alternator, reducing weight and eliminating the need for belt maintenance and replacement.

Most engine-based solutions are mounted on the frame rail, but for operations where space is limited, IdleBuster debuted at MATS a headache-rack-mounted system plus APUs suited to sprinter vans and other smaller-truck applications. You can visit them at America’s Traveling Truck Show through the summer in northeastern and Midwestern states. See this site.

Paddock Solar, a Los Angeles-area company founded by owner-operator Ray Paddock, is set to market a solar solution Paddock and his brother Larry have developed over many years, testing it on their own three-truck air freight operation. It combines an ESPAR fuel-fired heater with one or more $1,000 solar panels mounted atop the truck’s roof, with either the truck’s battery or an auxiliary bank of batteries to power a Southwest Solar evaporative cooler (mounted under the bunk) in the warm months – “It’s not air-conditioning,” says Paddock, “but it’s capable of lowering the temperature 20 to 30 degrees below the outside temp.”

Webasto introduced its NiteCool roof-mounted evaporative cooler at MATS. Webasto project specialist Reid Landis, using a benchmark of 40 percent outside humidity, said company tests concluded that at 86 degrees outside, NiteCool could achieve 72.5 degrees in-cab – at 95 degrees outside, 79.8 degrees in-cab. Be aware that as humidity goes up, the effectiveness of evaporative coolers goes down.

Paddock has charted his stopped time in detail in recent years and calculated more than 2,100 gallons of diesel saved last year. He says he’s been able to match his operation’s electrical output while stopped with the charging capability of the solar panel or panels, which he’s plugged directly to the main battery in his own trucks rather than an auxiliary battery bank. The panels must be kept clean, though, a challenge for any over-the-road operator.

The potential of solar in the trucking industry is great. In a conversation at MATS Sharon Banks of Cascade Sierra Solutions spoke with Brian Layfield of Laydon Composites (, a manufacturer of aerodynamic solutions for trucks and trailers based in Canada, about the possibility of photovoltaic skins on the roofs of trailers allowing truck drivers on hours-of-service breaks to plug in to shore power stations and transmit excess energy from the skins back to the grid, potentially receiving credit for their contribution to powering the nation.

The SmartWay Transport Partnership (website), a program conducted by the EPA that offers incentives for fleets, shippers and vendors to collaborate on the adoption of fuel-efficient, emissions-reducing technology, has enabled organizations around the country to research and test various anti-idling devices and offer in many cases low-interest loans or partial reimbursement to fleets and owner-operators willing to invest. Banks’ outfit is one of those – CSS’ recent grand opening on the I-5 corridor at the exit 199 TravelCenters of America location, just north of Eugene, Ore., launched its first outreach location, where Banks says they’ll provide info on 10 to 20 different APU brands in addition to other technologies. Part of that info includes data gathered from CSS field tests. They’re also helping owner-operators and fleets domiciled in Oregon secure low-interest financing through the “Everybody Wins” lease program, as well as Small Business Administration loans for any carrier looking to invest in idle-reduction technologies.

CSS is working on funding for low-interest financing for anyone operating within the state of California, which could include a vast majority of the long-haul sector. Keep an eye on their website ( for updates and new facilities opening along I-5, including at the Sacramento 49er truckstop at I-5 and I-80 (“We’re about four to five months out,” Banks says) and in the Los Angeles area, where plans are in the works to address area-specific issues by helping port drayage haulers get into newer trucks, for instance. If Banks and company can keep monthly APU lease-purchase payments to “$150 to $230 a month” – where they are now in the Oregon program, she says – owner-operators who idle often will still be coming out cash-flow positive by saving on fuel and engine wear.

APUs by Type

Dometic Environmental
(804) 746.1313

Idle Free

Idling Solutions IS9000
(866) 943-5464

NITE System
(866) 204-8570

Gen-set Type:
Alliance APU, contact nearest dealer

(800) 731-5791

Carrier Transicold ComfortPro
(706) 357-7223

(800) 501-7279

CCS Lightning
(613) 733-3855

(800) 523-8473

Cummins ComfortGuard APU, contact nearest dealer

Double Eagle Gen-Pac
(260) 768-4121

Frigette Truck Climate Systems
(800) 433-1740

Idle Kleen
(519) 568-7712

Idle Solutions
(800) 275-0574

(866) 438-4353

Kohler Power Systems, contact nearest dealer

PowerPac APU
(352) 365-2777

RigMaster, contact nearest dealer

StarClass Gen-Star
(800) 422-2865

(904) 378-1220

CabRunner Integrated Power System
(800) 777-6363

Pony Pack
(505) 243-1381

Willis Auxiliary Power System
(800) 825-4631

Thermo King TriPac, contact nearest dealer