SPECIAL REPORT: Idling reduction - They’re finally getting serious ... and real

| 6/3/2004

At the Department of Energy’s May meeting in New York, participants succeeded in moving past the wrangling and theorizing

--by Paul Abelson, senior technical editor

Unlike previous government-sponsored meetings on idling reduction that were characterized by interagency bickering and pie-in-the-sky searches for solutions, the Department of Energy-sponsored National Idling Reduction Planning Conference focused on interagency cooperation and realistic approaches.

Moderation duties at the conference, held May 17-19, 2004, in Albany, NY, were shared among personnel from the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Highway Administration. Speakers came from various state, regional and national regulatory entities, the supplier community and – to keep the conference focused on reality – two truck drivers/owner-operators and a fleet manager.

As background to emphasize the magnitude of the problem, Energy Department statistics show that unnecessary idling by mobile sources in the transportation industry waste more than 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually. About 458,000 over-the-road sleeper trucks do most of the idling in the trucking sector. Seventy thousand sleeper trucks are built each year. Those trucks alone consume about 838 million gallons of the total.

There are 474 counties in the United States listed as Ozone Non-Attainment Areas. Those counties have the responsibility and authority to institute whatever regulations, including anti-idling laws, may help them achieve cleaner air. Unnecessary truck idling, according to the EPA, adds 140,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen to our air. NOx contributes heavily to smog formation.

Keeping it real

To keep the regulators and engineers focused on practical solutions, the Conference started with the truck users’ perspectives. OOIDA members Mike and Gail Swiger, West Allis, WI, led off the Industry Perspectives Panel, followed by Ken Adams, vice president of maintenance at Jevic Transportation.

Gail gave the conference an understanding of why drivers idle. Playing the role of “Bubba Gail,” she told the conferees she needed to be comfortable to get her DOT-required sleep time, and that start-stop devices wake her co-driver and cause spikes that ruin her electronic devices. She wants to be sure her truck will run in the morning. She gets stuck in line at scales and tollbooths. She gets stuck in a line at the fuel desk while her truck idles. A quick phone call gets long when dispatch or a receiver puts her on hold. And with allergies, she needs the filtration her truck’s HVAC provides.

Drivers, Gail said, don’t just idle at truck stops and rest areas. They idle anywhere they park, at the fuel island, while waiting for a door assignment, during traffic tie-ups and, by law, while doing their pre-trip inspections.

A big concern for company drivers is who pays for idle reduction. Idle Aire is nice and saves the company equipment from burning fuel, but as a comfort item, is she expected to pay for it?

And anything put on a truck to reduce idling is just something else that can break. She gets paid for miles driven and freight hauled. Idle reduction devices reduce the weight she can haul. And she’s been idling all night for 20 years (as Bubba Gail in her role playing only). Why should she stop now?

Mike Swiger presented the thoughts of the owner-operator/small fleet owner with one to 10 trucks. He is concerned with the high initial cost of idling-reduction devices. They add weight. He has to pay an excise tax on an item that he may not feel he needs but one that improves public well-being. He needs to maintain the device, too.

Because there are no uniform national regulations, some communities consider a generator or APU to be an idling engine. Does he need one device for some locations and a second device for others? How can he finance a $3,000 to $10,000 addition to his truck? Where can he get his device maintained if the manufacturer has no nationwide infrastructure?

Mike suggested that to reduce excessive idling, drivers need training and motivation. There need to be uniform regulations. Barriers to purchase and use – such as federal excise taxes and weight penalties – must be eliminated, and there need to be financial incentives, as is done in Canada.

Jevic’s Ken Adams supports truck-stop electrification, but not as it is done today with full-service facilities (referring to Idle Aire). More simple plug-in facilities are needed to make it worthwhile for fleets to invest in on-board equipment, so trucks could plug-in wherever and whenever. Engineers should apply their creativity and develop innovative solutions, such as solar and wind power.

The full list of speakers, along with the slides from their presentations, is available atwww.orau.gov/idlingreduction.

Examining alternatives

According to Energy Department sources, fuel-fired heaters may have a payback shorter than the industry-desired two years, but they are not useful year-round. Some generators and auxiliary power units have a longer payback period if, in fact, they payback at all. For operations with idling in the 15 percent to 25 percent range (idling time as a percentage of total engine-on time), there may never be a payback. For those in the 40 percent to 50 percent range or higher, payback could be quite rapid, especially with today’s high fuel costs.

Mike Beauchamp, Schneider Transportation, equips his fleet with diesel cab heaters. Auto start devices have a negative effect on drivers’ rest. His trucks stop near customers’ locations 80 percent of the time. Schneider is testing 12-volt air conditioners that may enable the fleet to remove engine-driven A/C units, eliminating redundancy.

Lynda Harvey of Natural Resources Canada described the Canadian rebate program, which offers a 20 percent rebate on actual installed cost of approved devices up to $350 (in Canadian dollars) for a fuel fired heater and $1,400 Canadian for a generator or APU. The Canadian idling reduction program also includes driver training and idle-free zones in truck stops. Fifty-eight truck stops now have idle-free zones, and the number is growing.

A number of systems were presented during a wide-ranging discussion of technologies, including cold storage devices that compliment heaters, an innovative cooling system using pumped water, an advanced battery system that powers an HVAC system and Caterpillar’s MorElectric Truck concept. As these emerge from development,Land Line will report on them.

A session on the Idling Regulation Infrastructure emphasized how much some regulations were either difficult or impossible to achieve (such as zero idling time allowed), prohibitively expensive to enforce or achieve, and often at cross-purposes.

Developing solutions

The conference split into six working groups to brainstorm technology issues, regulatory needs and financial impediments to implementing idling reduction nationally. Each group spent 1½ hours on each issue, the results of which were combined and presented in a wrap-up session.

Participants felt the need for the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Technology and Maintenance Council to standardize mounting systems and interfaces so original equipment manufacturers could install devices more easily.

They want standardized testing to verify the effectiveness of the devices and they want lighter, cheaper devices. One method of achieving the latter would be through better cab insulation. Gail Swiger chairs TMC’s Cab and Controls Study Group, which is currently working on a Recommended Practice for improved cab insulation. Several attendees suggested that power from APUs be harnessed to provide low-speed vehicle propulsion when in long, slow lines at scales and in traffic.

In the financial session, they discussed educating operators about savings and payback, and called for innovative financing with the partnerships (banks, insurance companies, etc.) that could provide low-cost loans. State bonds could be issued to finance idling reduction. All sessions wanted immediate financial incentives, including rebates and tax exemptions.

All the regulatory sessions made clear that standardization of regulations and preemption of local and even California and New York State regulations were needed. CVSA can be the model for uniform regulations, criteria and enforcement. While the current administration and Congress are reluctant to pass any new laws, the appropriate agency, either FHWA or EPA, could draft model national regulations for the states to follow.

After presentation of the workshop ideas, the conference adjourned to see the grand opening of the first commercial shore power Truck Stop Electrification facility in New York, at the Wilton Travel Plaza on I-87, about 25 miles north of Albany.

The privately owned truck stop installed 20 shore power pedestals along the back row, creating an idle-free zone. A kit containing a power feed-through, a heater and a Phillips & Temro wiring kit is available at the Plaza’s main office.

Once equipped and registered, all a driver need do is drive up, swipe his registration card at an ATM-like kiosk, and plug in. Initial rates will be 75 cents/hour, but the first three months will be free. Both 120-volt/30-amp and 240-volt/30-50-amp service will be available at each post.

It seems the key government agencies have all become involved in efforts to reduce our dependency on foreign oil, to clean the air and to save truckers more than $1.5 billion in wasted fuel based on current prices. The industry has been brought in to provide focus and practical evaluation.

The next step will be to refine the ideas brought forth at this workshop. Its organizers will form industry-government working groups to plan their implementation.

Paul Abelson can be reached at truckwriter@anet.com.