What's in a Drop of Fuel?

by Derek Rotz, Director, Advanced Engineering4/18/2017
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They’re everywhere and indispensable, and life would seem unimaginable without the service they provide. This may sound a lot like smartphones, but right now I’m talking about trucks. According to the American Trucking Association, 70 percent of all freight is moved by truck. Whether keeping supply chains humming and retail centers stocked, or delivering items directly to your doorstep, let’s face it; trucking serves as the backbone of the American economy.

Playing this vital role requires fuel – a lot of it! Fuel represents a significant operating expense to drivers and owners as well as a source of CO2 emissions. It is, therefore, an imperative for the industry to continually improve efficiencies and reduce fuel consumption. Doing so improves not only the bottom line of truck operators, but also ensures good stewardship of the environment.

Fuel efficiency gains are measured on a percentile basis, one percent at a time. Yes – one percent seems like a drop in the bucket. In my passenger car such fuel saving technologies mean I will gain three meager miles of driving per tank of fuel. This doesn’t seem to move the needle much at all.

However, the situation for trucks is different. Trucks haul up to 80,000 pounds for 11 hours a day, every day. For these trucks, adding a new technology which saves one percent fuel represents over 150 gallons of diesel saved per year. Furthermore, a large fleet operating 10,000 trucks with this technology saves 6,000,000 gallons of diesel after four years of operation. We’re talking serious numbers.

What’s more, a truck manufacturer who sells 50,000 trucks annually with this new technology, 75,000,000 gallons of diesel will be spared over the 10 year life span of those vehicles. That’s real savings in both operating costs and environmental impact.

Figure 1: Fuel Savings for Each Percent Efficiency Gained

Today, the pace for improving fuel economy is accelerating. New vehicle models hitting the market make constant strides, achieving eight percent fuel economy improvement over vehicles from two years ago. Regulations for greenhouse gas emission push for efficiency gains of up to 25 percent over the next decade.

And if that’s not enough, research programs such as SuperTruck push the R&D envelope even further by challenging manufacturers to drastically improve efficiency by 50 or even 100 percent.

All professionals in trucking play key roles in making real fuel savings a reality. Whether designing new technologies, negotiating supplier and customer contracts, installing or servicing technologies on the vehicle, it can safely be said, “it takes a village to save fuel.”

Derek Rotz Director, Advanced Engineering

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