DOE To Spend $80,000,000 On Truck Efficiency

80% of all the goods sold in America each year move by truck. Most of those trucks are diesel powered tractor trailers popularly known as 18 wheelers. While they do their job very well, they consume a lot of diesel fuel every year. By now, most people realize that diesel engines are responsible for some of the worst air pollution of any motorized vehicles.

Efficient truck from Freightliner

In addition to the regular carbon dioxide emitted by any engine that runs on fossil fuel, diesels add nitrous oxides and particulates that are especially harmful to the atmosphere. Anyone who is up in arms about emissions from Volkswagen TDI passenger cars would be horrified to know the amount of pollution pouring out of the exhaust pipes of all those big rigs out on the superslab.

The US Department of Energy started its Super Truck program back in 2009. It is intended to find ways to increase the efficiency of America’s tractor trailers. The original goal was to increase the fuel economy of big rigs by 50%. While those trucks account for only 4% of the vehicles on the road, they consume 20% of all the fuel America consumes in a year. Is it a big deal to increase their efficiency? Let’s put it this way. The baseline average for all trucks in 2009 was under 6 mpg. Today, Super Trucks from Peterbilt and Freighliner are capable of 10 -12 mpg. Multiply that by the millions and millions of miles our freight hauling trucks pile up every year and the DOE says more efficient trucks could cut America’s oil needs by 300,000,000 million barrels a year and save fleet operators $20 billion dollars every year in fuel costs.

On March 1, the Department of Energy announced a proposal to add $80,000,000 to the Super Truck research program to find new ways to increase truck efficiency. In addition, DOE is proposing a further $12,000,000 investment in three projects that will look at research, development, and demonstration of plug-in electric powertrain technologies for medium and heavy duty vehicles. The project participants are Robert Bosch, Cummins, and McLaren Performance Technologies.

I wonder if anyone will pick up the phone to call Ian Wright. He is the Tesla co-founder who walked away to build his own company, Wrightspeed, dedicated to building efficient heavy duty trucks for the trash hauling industry. His company has perfected an innovative gas turbine generator that helps power  trucks when they are on the road. The turbine is highly efficient and pollution free, meeting California’s stringent emissions standards without so much as a catalytic converter. Incorporating that technology into long haul trucks seems like a no brainer.

This is a big deal. Last week, we made the mistake of reporting on a claim by Oakridge Global Energy Solutions of Florida that it had developed a battery for long haul trucks with a range of 400 miles. While that story unfortunately turned out to be inaccurate, the interest level among Gas 2 readers was unusually high. Our readers are keenly aware that improvements to our freight handling system in America are a vital component in reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.

There is one caveat in this story. The DOE proposals are dependent upon funding approval from Congress. Amidst the most contentious political turmoil in this country in memory, that approval is far from certain.

Photo credit: Department of Energy


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.