Robert Jordan hates waste and would like nothing more than to eliminate one of the greatest wastes in trucking: an idling big rig.
The Juneau, WI-based owner-operator has spent the past decade fine-tuning equipment on his 18-wheeler so he can go 100 percent idle-free without sacrificing in-cab comforts or breaking the bank.
Jordan has been an owner-operator for 12 years, the past 10 leased to refrigerated carrier Caine Transfer. He has driven more than 2 million miles without an accident or a ticket. Jordan typically hauls refrigerated cargo within 600 miles of his home and is usually on the road five days a week.
A self-described “innovator,” he spends his spare time thinking of better ways to make his 1997 Mack CH tractor more energy efficient.
“Every system I have developed and installed utilizes energy that is produced as the truck moves down the road,” he says. “This is energy that is normally ignored or simply thrown away.”
A key component of Jordan’s current idle-free setup is a 2,000-watt RV2012 inverter/charger from Xantrex Technology. Normally used in recreational vehicles, it’s designed to convert onboard DC power into the AC power needed to run appliances in the vehicle.
Jordan has his inverter connected to a bank of four isolated deep-cycle batteries mounted on the frame rail of his truck. The battery bank provides sufficient power to keep the truck’s sleeper and cab comfortable for several hours with the engine off, without draining his starting batteries and compromising his ability to start the truck after a rest period.
“I use an inexpensive 120-volt air conditioner when it’s hot and a 120-volt space heater when it’s cold,” he says. “I paid $88 for a GE bunk-mounted air conditioner and $15 for the heater. I also use a laptop and cook all my meals using 120-volt equipment.”
The truck’s alternator automatically recharges the battery pack when Jordan restarts his truck and resumes his travels. This takes about two hours or less under most conditions. He has a display on his dash to show the status of the inverter and the battery charge level.
To avoid low battery voltage, Jordan takes advantage of “shore power” as much as possible.
“The inverter allows me to plug into any outside 120-volt outlet so that any device I plug into my truck’s 120-volt outlets will operate from shore power,” he explains. “At the same time, the inverter’s built-in battery charger will charge and maintain the deep-cycle battery bank.”
Jordan acknowledges that many truck-stopping places don’t advertise shore power, but says you can usually find somewhere to plug in if you look for it.
“There are a lot more places to plug in than you’d think,” he says. “I can usually find a plug at a shipping or receiving dock while I’m waiting to load or unload. Almost every building has external outlets.
“I usually ask someone for permission before I plug in, and it’s never been a problem. One time I arrived at a receiving facility late at night and couldn’t find anyone to ask. I plugged in and left $5 on the outlet. The receiving clerk saw it in the morning and asked me what it was for. When I told him it was for using their electrical power, he refused to take the money.”
Jordan says it’s important for truckers to understand the difference between the kinds of low-quality inverters you often see in truckstops and the high-quality type he has.
“There are a variety of inverters on the market, and I believe that once you use a good one and witness its potential, you will never be without one,” he says. “The RV2012 model I have is a professional model designed for the kinds of electrical loads you get in a truck when it’s parked night after night, not only for camping once or twice a year.
“With today’s highly efficient, thermostatically controlled air conditioning systems, I can run the A/C for six to eight hours off the batteries. Heating requires more battery power, so when the outside temperature falls below 32 degrees, I can usually only get four to six hours from the batteries before I have to plug in.”
Jordan gets more out of the batteries in cold weather by using a 12-volt thermostat to turn power to the heater off when the bunk is warm enough.
“The batteries will go longer if you give them a chance to recover or don’t drain their power constantly. I also use the thermostat as the heat control mechanism for my bunk heat as I drive down the road.”
Jordan also keeps heater use down with an innovative engine heat transfer system he developed, which circulates hot engine coolant to the cab or bunk after the truck has been shut down. A 12-volt magnetic drive pump is used to move the coolant to both the cab and bunk heater cores. Two thermostats are used, one in the cab and one in the bunk, to control interior blower fan use.
“It will provide up to three hours of heat depending on the temperature outside,” Jordan says of the heat transfer system. “It’s easy to install and operate. It can be used without the driver in the truck or the key in the ignition. It shuts down automatically once engine coolant temperature falls to 80 degrees.”
“The system also has the added benefit of engine cool down during hot months. I have a summer switch connected to a 150-degree engine temperature switch that will shut off the pump automatically once the engine block cools to 150 degrees.”
Jordan also has developed a patent-pending method for maintaining the charge level of his battery bank using the alternator on his trailer’s refrigeration unit.
“Since I have to run the refrigeration unit anyway, this is free energy,” he says. “Based on the testing I have done so far, this system extends the run time dramatically. I’m hoping to offer this system to the public one day soon.”
Jordan thinks he has recouped the money he spent on his idle-prevention systems many times over.
“At 1.5 gallons per hour, eliminating only 40 hours per week of idling will save you $3,000 per year in fuel costs alone,” he says. “In addition, you will save 2,000 hours of engine and component wear each year.”
The 1997 Mack CH Jordan currently owns has more than 830,000 miles on the clock, and he says the truck’s 427 engine has never had the heads or oil pan removed.
“In the five-plus years I have owned it, I have never lost a day of work because of a breakdown,” he says.
Jordan thinks most truckers can reduce idling and save money by installing a good inverter.
“I had a gen set (auxiliary power unit) before, and I liked the results that the gen set gave me, but I felt it was a waste of energy and it was very expensive. The payback is too long. The Xantrex inverter I use now is quiet, has a provision for shore power, requires no maintenance, and is one-fifth the price or less.”
More information on Jordan and his innovations will soon be available at www.idlefree.net, a Web site he is building to provide helpful tips to prevent idling.