Sustainable America Blog

Solving the Truck-Idling Problem

As part of our new anti-idling campaign, Turn it Off, we’ve been talking a lot about a simple change that can make a big difference — restarting your car instead of idling. Going through an ATM drive-thru, waiting in the school pick-up line, or grabbing fast food are all scenarios when habit kicks in and we leave our cars unnecessarily idling. But what if you drive a truck for a living? Drivers of heavy vehicles and tractor trailers often take breaks or even sleep in their trucks, and turning it off in extreme weather becomes is a safety issue rather than an environmental one. But with new anti-idling laws that can carry steep fines for idling more than a few minutes, not to mention the harmful impact on the environment, companies are starting to take note and explore alternative solutions.

Take garbage trucks, for instance. A recent report from the Argonne National Laboratory-Center for Transportation Research estimated that garbage trucks waste close to 27.5 million gallons of fuel per year through idling, whether they’re waiting in line to drop off a load or providing a comfortable place for a driver to take a break. To help bring this number down, Waste Management, one of the biggest operators of garbage trucks in the country, has mandated an idle shutdown policy, which means all of the company’s trucks with electronic engines are programmed to shut down after five minutes of idling, according to Jennifer Andrews, director of corporate communications and community relations. Additionally, with the installation of OBC GPS tracking technology, Waste Management can now review how, when and where trucks idle, which will inform them as they develop new policies on the issue.

Long-haul truckers have different challenges. They are required by law to rest for 10 hours out of every 24-hour period. Of course, during this resting period trucks are idling to keep truck cabs warm or cool, power electrical appliances and keep the engine and fuel warm in the winter. Although much needed, all this resting costs a lot of money and fuel. All told, with current fuel prices, the average long-haul truck wastes $3,000-$4,000 worth of diesel—or 2,400 gallons of fuel per truck, equating to 1.2 billion gallons of diesel fuel consumed per year from trucks idling. Each idling truck produces 21 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 0.3 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) on average into the atmosphere.

Companies like Idle Free and Energy XTreme have developed all-electric APU and battery systems that can provide climate control and electricity for a truck cab/sleeper. These auxiliary mobile electric power systems are not limited to long-haul trucks. Other technology systems have been developed for ambulances, law enforcement vehicles and service and military vehicles. In addition to these auxiliary power units, there are additional onboard reduction equipment options available, including cab/bunker heaters, coolant heaters, energy recovery systems, storage air conditioners and automatic engine stop-start controls.

Truck stop operators also have the power to utilize anti-idling technologies. One of the nation’s leading truck stop operators, Pilot Flying J, has signed an agreement with Shorepower Technologies to install power pedestals at its travel centers in Bakersfield, Dunnigan, Lebec, Lodi and Weed in California, and in Dallas, Texas. Each site will have between 24 and 48 electrified parking spots for truckers. However, truck stops across the state of Tennessee using this same technology, referred to as ‘truck stop electrification’ or TSE technology, have been met with some pushback from trucking companies and drivers.

Alan Jones, manager of the Energy Policy Office in the Long Range Planning Division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) commented on the challenge: “The thing that we still have to work on is how…do we increase their usage?” said Jones. “The cost of TSE per hour is one-third to one half the cost of burning a gallon of diesel fuel, depending on the price of diesel. That’s not difficult math—so why aren’t more drivers using it?”

Additionally, with anti-idling technology in its infancy, further research on idle reduction technologies is being conducted by The U.S. Department of Energy. Programs like the CoolCab Project strive to improve idle reduction systems that lack the capacity to maintain driver comfort under varying weather conditions.

We look forward to the development of this type of technology across the trucking industry and will work to continue educating drivers about idling and it’s impact on fuel cost and the environment. By pledging to Turn it Off we can all save money, fuel and the planet.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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