Improved Fuel Efficiency for Trucks
Air Date: Week of August 12, 2011
From dump trucks and buses to tractor trailers, heavy duty vehicles will now have to meet new fuel efficiency standards. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Allen Schaeffer of the Diesel Technology Forum about what these new rules will mean for truckers.
GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studio in Somerville, Massachusetts it’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Heavy duty trucks make up just four percent of the vehicles on the road yet they use 20 percent of the fuel. Now for the first time trucks and other commercial vehicles will have to meet federal fuel efficiency standards. Back in 2007, President George W. Bush signed a law allowing new standards. Now President Obama has set them. Joining me to discuss the new rules is Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, which advocates diesel as a sustainable energy technology. Mr. Schaeffer, welcome to Living on Earth!
SCHAEFFER: Thanks. Great to be here.
GELLERMAN: So first of all what kind of trucks are we talking about?
SCHAEFFER: This new rule covers trucks of all shapes and sizes, from the big-rig tractor/trailer-type trucks down to the heavy-duty pick up trucks, kind of a beefier work-grade truck and everything in between, the cement mixers, fire trucks, you name it, if you’ve seen a truck like it, this rule covers it. It also covers buses I should say too.
GELLERMAN: So let’s say for 18-wheeler big-rig, what’s the new standard?
SCHAEFFER: They will be getting about 23 percent gain in fuel efficiency between now and 2018.
GELLERMAN: Well how do they meet these new standards? That’s pretty ambitious. That’s really coming fast and furious
SCHAEFFER: It is and it starts out with the diesel engine which now is near-zero emissions and that engine is going to get more efficient than ever before through the use of advanced turbo charging and boosting technologies on the engine and advanced fuel injection technology will make the engine super more efficient in how it burns every drop of fuel converting more of that fuel into usable energy than waste heat. And then you start to think about the thing that that engine powers which is the rest of the vehicle and you try to make the vehicle more aerodynamic.
GELLERMAN: The small vehicles, the standard is what 10-15 percent, but did I hear you say zero emissions from a diesel engine?
SCHAEFFER: That’s right. You know we spent the last ten years making diesel clean and today in some of America’s most polluted cities, the air coming out of a diesel truck, 2010-2011 model, could actually be cleaner than the air going into it and that’s because the engine is now near-zero emissions for both particles and ozone kind of smog precursors like nitrogen oxide.
GELLERMAN: But you’re still emitting greenhouse gases, climate changing gases.
SCHAEFFER: That’s right. And any internal combustion engine is emitting greenhouse gases so it’s important just to keep that in mind, I think. The other thing with this rule is that these vehicles do work, they haul lots of heavy loads and do lots of different things so we have to think about them in a different way than we do passenger cars in terms of fuel economy.
GELLERMAN: Well a big-rig. How many miles per gallon is it getting right about now?
SCHAEFFER: The new generation of big rigs are getting about five percent better fuel economy than the ones made in 2009. So they’re pulling down you know 6, 7, 8 miles a gallon. Those are trucks that are hauling again 80,000 pound payloads. So, that doesn’t sounds like a lot of fuel efficiency but it is especially when you look at it over an entire fleet.
GELLERMAN: So how many miles does an average rig get driven a year?
SCHAEFFER: The average big rig is anywhere from a 100 to a150,000 miles a year. The fuel bill for a big rig is easily close to, or above the $100,000 range.
GELLERMAN: So what will the new efficiency standard save?
SCHAEFFER: The fuel cost savings that are predicted, when all is said and done, fully-implemented for these rules, about $50 billion in fuel costs and EPA estimates about 500 million barrels of oil will be saved from the full implementation of these rules.
GELLERMAN: So trucking companies probably love this, I would guess, it’s gonna save them fuel. But what about the people that make the trucks and the engines and that’s about more expensive.
SCHAEFFER: It’s a win-win on both sides of the equation there. On the manufacturers side, it’s the uniformity and having a certainty about what the future looks like. For users there is a higher investment for these new vehicles. That could be a couple of hundred dollars in a small truck upto a couple of thousand in a big rig. But the big rigs put down so many miles per year that they’ll get the pay back of that in a shorter time frame. Really in a year or two they’ll have recovered the higher cost of the new technologies to make the engine, the truck more efficient. So then going forward that’s just additional profit in their pocket.
GELLERMAN: I was reading a blog post by the spokesman of the house majority leader, Republican Eric Canter. He says this the new rules quote “further tie the hands of job creators and add yet another hurdle to getting the economy up and running.” He’s basically saying these new standards are job killers.
SCHAEFFER: Well, (laughs) it’s hard to say exactly what’s behind that statement and I haven’t see that analysis. The new generation trucks are more fuel efficient and people are seeing that and saying “I can’t sit here on the sidelines with this, you know, five-year-old truck and these guys are eating my lunch getting you know 5, 6, 7 percent better fuel economy per gallon. I got to get in that game and that’s been driving some of the growth in truck sales this year. We’ve heard that from a number of different sources. This does look like at this point it’s going to be a win for both the users and the manufacturers in terms of getting the most fuel-efficient clean diesel technology out there on the roads.
GELLERMAN: Allen Schaeffer is Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum. Mr .Schaeffer thank you so very much.
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