If you’ve ever traveled on a U.S. Interstate Highway at night, you’ve likely come across large numbers of trucks idling at rest areas and truck stops. Long-haul truckers are required by law to rest for 10 out of every 24 hour period. But at rest, most trucks will idle their main diesel engine to provide heating and cooling, to keep the engine and fuel warm in winter, and to provide power for electrical appliances like microwaves and TV sets without draining the batteries.
But all that resting really adds up, both in terms of cost to the truckers and trucking companies, and in terms of environmental cost. At current fuel prices, the average long-haul truck uses $3,000-$4,000 worth of diesel every year just idling. And with some fleets as large as 10,000 vehicles, the high cost of idling cuts into already narrow profit margins.
But the bigger issue for state and municipal governments is not fuel cost, it is air pollution (the federal government has yet to enact any anti-idling laws but they have set forth guidelines for states to follow if they wish). Idling anywhere between 500 and 3,500 hours a year and burning an average of .80 gallons of diesel fuel per hour, long-haul trucks emit 11 million tons of CO2, 200,000 tons of NOx, and 5,000 tons of particulate matter into the air annually.
Trucking companies used to eat the costs of truck idling, including the cost of state and local fines. But rising fuel and fine costs have spurred companies to seek alternative solutions to truck idling because, according to some reports, it has gotten to the point where it can cost less to get a hotel room than idle a truck.
New laws spurring development of clean-idling technologies
As of July 2010, 22 states and several large municipalities including the District of Columbia have enacted anti-idling regulations that normally limit idling to no more than five minutes. And in California, anti-idling enforcement is on the rise (pdf). In 2007, the California Air Quality Resources Board issued 135 anti-idling violations for large vehicles. In 2008, this number jumped to 511.
But despite the rash of new regulations and stepped-up enforcement, industry estimates are that less than 10 percent of the 1.4 million big trucks on the road have some form of auxiliary power unit (APU) on board that allows the main diesel engine to shut down yet still provide heating, cooling and electrical power for interior lighting and appliances. And of those roughly 100,000 trucks that do have APUs, most of those still run on diesel fuel, emitting CO2 and particulates into the air. Not only that, but the more costly diesel APUs still require fuel and cost more to keep up.
Bucking this trend, several companies including Thermo King, Idle Free and Glacier Bay have developed all-electric APU and battery systems that can provide climate control and electricity for a truck cab or sleeper — and do so while producing zero emissions.
According to company spokesman Russell Castronovo, who I recently spoke with via telephone, Glacier Bay’s ClimaCab can keep a truck’s cab at 75°F for 10 hours anywhere and at any time of year in the US and Canada.
The ClimaCab combines a four-battery system with advanced battery management and variable-speed compressors and blowers. The variable speed motors are critical component of maximizing battery life and performance while the truck is at rest.
“Depending on variables, an electric APU can pay for itself in 1-2 years,” said Castronovo. The all-electric ClimaCab system costs $6,000-$7,000 to install on a standard sleeper-cab truck. Castronovo also pointed out that many states have rebates and other incentives that could help reduce the cost even more.
And apparently Glacier Bay is onto something. In 2009, while the market for new trucks was down by 50 percent and the overall trucking APU market was down by 70 percent, Glacier Bay grew from a $2 million business to a $15 million business.
Article by Timothy B. Hurst, appearing courtesy Earth & Industry.