Volvo likes dimethyl ether
In transportation, often the easiest way to boost fuel economy and reduce emissions is to avoid fuel-burn altogether.
By applying information technology systems, for instance, UPS has found ways to package trucks more efficiently to reduce idling time. Through telematics, UPS can also monitor a truck's travel route and how it's being driven to promote best practices among drivers.
Lightweighting and aerodynamics can also play a significant role. For long-haul trucks, applying lightweight materials such as aluminum and carbon composites could reduce fuel consumption by up to 5 percent. Improving the aerodynamics of a tractor-trailer with devices like side skirts could reduce fuel consumption by up to 12 percent.
"The single most exciting thing is coupling the aerodynamics of the tractor and the trailer," said Anthony Greszler, vice president of government and industry relations for Volvo Trucks. But since engines and cargo containers are manufactured separately, there needs to be greater standardization in order to reap the greatest benefit, he said.
Volvo, a leader in manufacturing truck engines, sees another big opportunity in making trucks that run on dimethyl ether, or DME. The colorless, odorless gas has physical characteristics similar to propane and can be chemically derived from natural gas or renewable feedstocks like landfill gas.
"It's a clean-burning fuel, made from multiple feedstocks. So in addition to using our naturally abundant natural gas in the U.S., we can also use a multitude of wasted resources that have no home today," said Rebecca Boudreaux, president of Oberon Fuels, on the sidelines of a Capitol Hill briefing on DME last week. "Methane and carbon dioxide that is going into the atmosphere instead creates something that's clean-burning."
Volvo has committed to making commercially available trucks that run on DME by 2015. Mack Trucks has also announced plans to sell DME engines. But trucking companies will likely be hesitant to embrace a fuel with a limited track history and about half the energy density of diesel.
Electricity could spark savings in delivery trucks
John Boesel, president and CEO of the clean transportation consortium CALSTART, said at the BSR event that he's confident there are also some attractive applications for electric platforms in the trucking sector. Vocational trucks that frequently start and stop, such as refuse and package trucks, stand to see significant fuel savings thanks to regenerative braking.
High and volatile diesel prices will drive companies like UPS and Wal-Mart to further explore various fuel-saving technologies and low-carbon alternatives. More and more alternatives will also work their way onto U.S. roads due to increasingly stringent U.S. EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards.
In 2011, the agencies completed the first phase of heavy-duty vehicle regulations to run from 2014 through 2018, which will largely incentivize the use of known technologies to produce a 15 percent fleetwide fuel efficiency improvement. In the administration's new climate policy unveiled this summer, President Obama committed to a second phase of regulations for the post-2018 time frame.
Stakeholders have just begun designing the rules, but undoubtedly a debate will emerge over how different alternative fuels and technologies are incentivized, said Therese Langer, transportation program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
In a report published last week, ACEEE found that the adoption of various fuel-saving technologies could reduce the fuel consumption of heavy-duty vehicles by 26 percent in 2035 beyond the benefits expected from fuel economy standards already in place.
At the BSR symposium, Austin Brown, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, underscored that today there are unprecedented opportunities to advance clean technologies in transportation. While the frequency of extreme events is increasing, in combating climate change "there's this feeling that we have options we didn't have before," he said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500