Advanced Diesel Engines May Cut Truck Fuel Use 20% by 2020

by | Mar 31, 2010

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FuelUseBenefitUsing advanced diesel engines in tractor-trailers could lower their fuel consumption by up to 20 percent by 2020, and improved aerodynamics could deliver an 11 percent reduction in fuel use, according to a report from the National Research Council.

Truck makers such as Peterbilt and Kenworth are already rolling out new truck models with aerodynamic packages that are aimed at increasing fuel efficiency. In addition, the trucking industry has several efforts underway to improve fuel efficiency in big rigs.

The report, “Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles,” evaluates various technologies and methods that could improve fuel consumption in seven vehicle types over the next decade.

The report is the result of a congressional passed law that requires the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish fuel economy for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, which account for about 26 percent of the transportation fuel in the U.S., according to the council.

A key finding indicates that hybrid powertrains also could lower the fuel consumption of vehicles that stop frequently such as garbage trucks and transit buses by as much 35 percent over ten years. The good news for businesses is that many of the technologies evaluated would pay for themselves even at today’s energy prices, according to the report.

The report also looked at the potential savings achieved by combing technologies. As an example, the report found that the best cost-benefit ratio was offered by tractor-trailers, whose fuel use could be cut by about 50 percent for a savings of $84,600 per truck. The improvements would be cost effective over ten years provided gas prices are at least $1.10 per gallon, according to the report.

The National Research Council also recommends that regulators use a metric that reflects the efficiency of a vehicle when it moves goods or passengers such as gallons per ton-mile, or called load-specific fuel consumption (LSFC), instead of a miles-per-gallon measure.

The report also suggests imposing a fuel tax as a way to avoid regulating different types of vehicles, which would push businesses to optimize the fuel efficiency of their operations, or applying a cap-and-trade system to trucking companies similar to the one that Congress is considering as a way to lower CO2 emissions and improve fuel efficiency.

Other recommendations include non-technical methods that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) could lower fuel consumption such as by providing incentives to train vehicle operators in efficient driving techniques, which can result in fuel savings of 2 percent to 17 percent.

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