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June 22, 2020   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Smooth Operator: A Few Simple Changes to Eliminate 30 Million Tons of Emissions

A more efficient diesel truck driven efficiently is a winning combination that will help reduce fuel consumption, improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help cool a warming planet.

If we all make a few simple changes to our daily routine, we can have a beneficial effect on the environment and lower greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to a warming planet. The same holds true for the trucking industry. While the fleet of passenger cars is responsible for most transportation sources of greenhouse gas emissions, trucks generate about 25 percent of emissions. New research shows that modifying driving style and other factors related to how these trucks operate can save record quantities of fuel and drive down emissions. These are low to no cost changes that can contribute to immediate reductions in emissions, without fuel-switching or sacrificing service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that trucks are essential. Trucks makes sure that foodstuffs and household items get to store shelves and deliver essential medical equipment to hospitals and critical care facilities in a timely manner. Ninety-seven percent of these larger trucks on the road and 75 percent of all commercial vehicles in the U.S. are powered by diesel engines and fuel, with the remainder are made up by natural gas. A little more than half of these larger trucks - known as Class 7 and 8 - perform regional operations hauling freight about 300 miles each day before returning home - the remainder are truly long-haul trucking.

Class 3-8 Trucks 97 Percent

When it comes to emissions and climate change, long haul and regional trucks are responsible for most emissions from the large population of commercial vehicles. While zero-emissions technology and charging infrastructure is in its infancy, a new report shows that there are lost cost and immediate actions that can greatly contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from these regional trucks.

First, new diesel Class 7 and 8 trucks are much more efficient than previous models. Truck and engine makers are now subject to stringent fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements. Manufacturers are achieving these new requirements through a combination of strategies to make the engine and transmission more efficient as well as the overall vehicle through changes in tires, aerodynamics and more. By 2030, the design of these more efficient new trucks will have saved over 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions and the vast majority of these trucks will still be diesel.

By what if these trucks were operated much more efficiently? A new report published by the North American Council on Freight Efficiency shows that if regional routes for trucks were managed efficiently and drivers altered driving style to take into account fuel efficiency, fuel economy could improve by 38 percent. Fuel economy could advance from the industry average of 6 miles per gallon to 8.3 miles per gallon if simple and low-cost changes were instituted. 

First up is driving style. Educating drivers about proper acceleration, driving habits and gear selection can contribute between 30 to 35 percent in efficiency improvement. While regional haul typically sees about 300 miles performed each day, what if these deliveries were routed more efficiently? The study noted that choosing routes with the least elevation has great potential to save fuel and reduce emissions. Choosing routes that eliminate needless miles, stops and congestion means more fuel savings as well. What if trucks were closely matched with their need? Class 7 and 8 trucks come in a variety of shapes and sizes with different engine and transmission configurations based on their load and duty cycle. Afterall, why use a larger sleeper cab configuration for a daily haul? Closely matching trucks specifications to their needs can also contribute to fuel savings.  

In real numbers, going from 6 mpg to 8.3 mpg might not seem impressive, but it is a 38 percent improvement and, when compounded over the estimated 800,000 trucks in regional operations, the benefits are quite large. Operating more efficient diesel trucks more efficiently can eliminate 30 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and save fleets $9 billion annual in fuel costs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, these benefits are equivalent to taking 6.5 million cars off the road or the eliminating the emissions needed to power 3.5 million homes.

As discussions focus on ways to reduce the carbon footprint we make on the planet, a few simple changes to how trucks are managed and driven can generate significant benefits almost overnight. A more efficient diesel truck driven efficiently is a winning combination that will help reduce fuel consumption, improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help cool a warming planet.


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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy

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