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New Obama Administration Rules Tackle Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Consumption of Big Trucks

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What’s the worst thing about shopping on the Internet? I’m sure everyone has their own pet peeves about buying things online.  But how about the one where, after you spend hours doing far too much comparison shopping, you go to check out and there’s a shipping charge that throws all of your calculations off. Argh!

Well, that problem probably isn’t going to go away anytime soon, but there was an announcement recently by the Obama administration that could impact how much we pay for shipping in the future.  On August 9, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation finalized the first ever greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles.  These standards cover everything from 18-wheelers to the delivery trucks in your neighborhood. Yes, those same trucks that drop off your online purchases.

This is a big deal.  Trucks consume about 20 percent of the fuel used by all the vehicles on our nation’s roads, yet are only 4 percent of the vehicles. Obviously trucks are bigger than cars and often carry many tons of materials – so it makes sense that they consume more fuel per mile than cars.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t use fuel more efficiently. And seemingly minor improvements can make a big difference.

Take big-rigs for example. A typical 18-wheeler on the road today achieves about 6.5 miles per gallon and travels 120,000 miles a year. Under the rules, new big-rigs would need to improve their mileage to about 8 miles per gallon by 2018.

Doesn’t sound like much, but the fuel savings add-up.  A single truck could save nearly 3,500 gallons of fuel in a year.  That amount of fuel savings is the equivalent to the annual fuel consumption of about 5 average passenger vehicles. Not to mention the cost savings, which add up to over $12,000 a year with diesel prices at $3.50 per gallon.

And these new rules really only scratch the surface of what’s possible. Improvements to trailers could provide 1/3 of the total fuel savings for big rigs, but trailers aren’t covered by the new rules. Hybrid systems are also gaining momentum, especially in the delivery truck category, and even fully electric delivery trucks are entering the mix.  Advance technologies could make a big dent in truck fuel consumption, but these promising technologies will not be necessary to meet the new standards.

UCS Convoy: Making technology improvements to tractors and the trailers they pull could reduce fuel consumption and global warming pollution from new big rigs by 35 percent by the end of this decade.

So it’ll still be sometime before we see all of the big rigs on the road looking like the UCS Convoy, as we’ll need a second round of stronger standards that pick-up the slack after 2018. But with the first ever standards to improve truck efficiency finally inked, we can look forward to steady progress over the next few years.

So how does all this relate to online shopping? Making our nation’s trucks more efficient will save truck owners thousands of dollars on fuel costs, one of the biggest expenses for trucking companies. And making trucking companies less vulnerable to volatile fuel prices isn’t only good for business, but should help hold down costs for consumers as well.

Posted in: Vehicles

About the author: Don Anair is a senior engineer with expertise on diesel, hybrid and battery electric vehicle, and goods movement technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming. He holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering. See Don's full bio.

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