What’s down the road?
The newest semi-trucks have a futuristic, streamline appearance more akin to a bullet train than the boxy workhorses that populated our highways over the last several decades. But it is function, not form, driving these changes. New technologies and designs have enabled highway trucks to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 20% compared to their predecessors. A combination of cost-savings and government regulations seem to be driving the adoption of innovative truck technologies to the benefit of the environment, national security, and truck owners and operators.
From Controlling Emissions to Increasing Efficiency
Federal emission standards for criteria pollutants were first imposed on heavy-duty diesel engines in 1974, with more stringent standards adopted in 1988, 2004, 2007 and 2010 (California had separate standards and phase-in periods). These standards helped curb soot and smog-forming pollutants from buses and onroad trucks ranging in size from step vans to the largest class 8 semi-trucks on U.S. highways. In order to comply with emission standards, manufacturers employed a number of technologies, including particulate traps, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), and selective catalytic reduction (SCR). Complementary regulations which lowered the sulfur content of diesel fuel enabled the advancement and use of these control technologies. Unfortunately, most of these emission control technologies were detrimental to the vehicle’s fuel economy and were expensive to purchase and maintain.
Recently, the focus has shifted. New regulations and technologies emphasis the reduction of fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s fleet of medium and heavy-duty trucks. As passenger cars and trucks became cleaner and more efficient, larger vehicles represented a bigger share of transportation-related petroleum consumption and carbon emissions. In 2010, heavy-duty trucks represented just four percent of registered vehicles on the road in the United States, but accounted for almost 25% percent of on road petroleum consumption greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles
In 2010 President Obama directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles (HDV). The federal agencies responded and in the summer of 2011 the first-ever HDV efficiency and greenhouse gas standards were finalized. These standards applied to new model year 2014 through model year 2018 HDVs. Covered vehicles included heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans, vocational vehicles (a wide category of vehicles that includes delivery trucks, garbage trucks, buses, etc.) and semi-tractor trailers (semi-trucks). In 2013 there were approximately 350,000 Class 4-8 heavy duty vehicles sold in the U.S., providing a large in-place market for new technologies and innovations spurred by the standards.
By 2018 the standards require a 10% reduction in fuel consumption and GHGs for vocational vehicles, 15% for heavy duty pick-up trucks and vans, and 20% for semi-trucks. It is projected that the standards will result in a savings of 530 million barrels of oil (more than the annual imports from Saudi Arabia) and 270 million metric tons of carbon emissions (the equivalent of taking approximately 56 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year)3. Operators will collectively save a total of $50 billion in fuel costs4. Their actions are expected to yield approximately 50 billion in societal benefits including benefits resulting from the associated reduction of particulate matter and ozone4. It is calculated that semi-truck operators can offset the incremental purchase cost of a truck featuring new technologies in about a year and realize a net savings of $73,000 over the life of the vehicle.
Most of the efficiency improvements are expected to come from diesel engine enhancements, low resistant tires, weight reductions, improved aerodynamics, idle reduction strategies and other off-the-shelf solutions. Alternative fuels and hybrid powertrains are also expected to play a significant role.
But Wait, There’s More: Phase II
The U.S. EPA and NTSHA have been directed to seek additional fuel efficiencies for heavy-duty vehicles produced beyond 2018. One study estimates additional efficiency gains on the order of 25% can be realized6. Rulemaking for Phase II of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles is scheduled for March 2016. Phase II will build on the achievements of Phase 1 and will likely include regulatory standards for the trailers pulled by semi-tractors. A more holistic approach to efficiency will look at the entire vehicle rather than just the tractor and engine. It will require trailer manufacturers to incorporate fuel-saving technologies. There are many such technologies already available in the marketplace but others will likely emerge.
California Pulls to the Front
Leading the way for these new trailer developments, California implemented a Tractor-Trailer Greenhouse Gas regulation aimed at increasing truck efficiency. The regulation went into effect in for model year 2011 vehicles and is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 0.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalents by 2020, statewide6. By the end of 2020, it is estimated that truck owners/operators will save about $5.1 billion through the reduction of 500 million gallons in diesel consumption in California and 3.3 billion gallons across the nation.
The regulation applies primarily to 53-foot or longer box-type trailers, including both dry-van and refrigerated-van trailers, and heavy-duty tractors. It applies to trucks operating on California highways, regardless of where they are registered. Owners are responsible for replacing or retrofitting the regulation covered vehicles with compliant aerodynamic technologies and low rolling resistance tires. The tractors and trailers subject to the regulation must use U.S. EPA SmartWay certified tractors and trailers, or retrofit their existing fleet with SmartWay verified technologies. The SmartWay certification process falls under a voluntary national program — the SmartWay Transport Partnership (SmartWay) Program.
SmartWay compliance technologies include several aerodynamic enhancement technologies (fairings and skirts) on both the tractor and the trailer and low rolling resistant tires for trailers. It does not require engine modifications. There are many exemptions and special provisions associated with compliance.
The Road Ahead
Prompted by regulations and technology advances, medium and heavy duty vehicles are undergoing a transformation. These changes will reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, they are cost-effective and will save truck operators money over the life of the vehicle. CarbonBLU can help you determine if you are affected by these regulations and help you navigate through the compliance procedures. Even if your vehicles are exempt, there are many cost-effective ways to reduce petroleum consumption through simple technologies, operational changes, and engine adjustments. CarbonBLU can also help you gain recognition for your efforts through programs like the SmartWay Transport Partnership Program, the National Clean Fleet Partnership, or the NAFA Sustainable Accreditation Program