Idle-reduction technology remains a cost-saver for fleets

  • ayan
  • July 31, 2019
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With fuel costs now representing about 22 percent of a fleet’s total operating costs, and anti-idling laws in most states, idle-reduction technologies have become a key consideration when buying new tractors. However, many fleets remain on the sidelines due to a number of barriers, including a lack of information and a lack of understanding on the payback for idle-reduction technologies, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) said in a new report.

On July 30 the group released a new “Confidence Report” on idle-reduction technologies. The report looks at adoption rates of the primary technologies and techniques available today. For instance, there is high confidence in the success of fuel-operated heaters, electronic engine idle parameters, driver training and driver incentives, with payback time-frames generally under a year.

Technologies such as auto engine stop/start, battery HVAC systems, solar panels and diesel auxiliary power units achieve lower levels of confidence from fleets with longer payback periods of up to three years.

“To me, idle reduction is simple – we have to get a technology figured out to support the battery system. I don’t think anyone wants to idle just to be idling; they do it because we have to provide those creature comforts,” Mike Jeffress, vice president of maintenance for Maverick Transportation, said.

NACFE said that a 10 percent reduction in idling is worth about 1 percent in fuel economy, or between $500 and $700 per year in fuel savings at $3 per gallon on a truck driven 100,000 miles.

“And a reduction of 20 percent is not unreasonable if the right combination of technologies is employed and managed,” NACFE noted. “Drivers are also a very important – if not the most important – part of the successful management of idle times.”

Mike Roeth, NACFE executive director, said this report is an update of a Confidence Report originally compiled five years ago. While not much has changed in terms of the technologies available, updates have improved their performance.

“If you are not using many of these solutions, you could be idling in the 40 percent to 50 percent range in over-the-road tractors pretty regularly,” Roeth said. “We’ve talked to many fleets that have specific programs to reduce idling and they are well below 20 percent, so there is a significant opportunity there.”

Reducing idle time provides benefits beyond simply complying with anti-idle regulations, said Kevin Otto, team lead for the NACFE Idle-Reduction Technologies Confidence Report.

“There are a lot of really good reasons to limit the idling of the main engine in a truck – providing the driver with the most comfortable conditions to spend his or her breaks, saving a little fuel, saving a little wear and tear on the engine, and, last but not least, it’s good for the environment,” he said.

NACFE produced this Confidence Report on idle-reduction technologies. (Photo: NACFE)

Ben Curtis, fleet maintenance manager for J.P. Noonan Transportation, was quoted in the report as saying that drivers, though, are not as interested in what fleets look for in the technologies.

“Drivers are not interested in this technology to save fuel and reduce idling. They are interested in staying comfortable in the truck while they are required to be in it,” Curtis said.

Roeth echoed Curtis’ sentiment, noting that “driver expectations are increasing around the ‘hotel’ environment in the cab,” he said, noting that many fleets now see idle-reduction as contributing to driver attraction and retention.

“They talk about it in terms of taking care of drivers every bit and even more than payback,” Roeth said.

In addition to staying comfortable, drivers are increasingly using technologies such as phones, lighting, laptops, CPAP machines and even televisions and refrigerators in their cabs today, increasing the power drain on batteries and boosting the likelihood the vehicle will idle. Cities, though, are fighting back. In New York City, there are now signs offering cash rewards to residents who report idling vehicles.

NACFE’s Confidence Report identified the technologies available today and offered a conclusion of their confidence level, which is defined in a matrix in “terms of the expected payback in years compared to the confidence that the study team has in the available data on the technology – that is, not only how quickly fleets can expect payback on their investment but also how certain NACFE is in the assessment of that payback time.”

Among the technologies the report covers, along with NACFE’s analysis:

Fuel-operated heaters

Pros: Inexpensive. They use diesel fuel to provide heat to the sleeper cab or truck engine (water or coolant heaters) when the engine is off.

Cons: They do not provide any cooling, power for hotel loads and create some emissions while operating.

Auxiliary power units

Pros: Either diesel- or battery-powered and do not require the truck’s main engine for power. Can provide cooling, heating and electric power for hotel loads. Diesel units can operate in extreme temperatures.

Cons: Battery units must be recharged while diesel units generate emissions and noise. Battery units can be affected by temperature extremes and diesel units can be noisy.

Automatic engine start/stop systems

Pros: Allow the main engine to provide truck features without idling the truck. There are two types of automatic engine start/stop systems – one that maintains a cab’s interior temperature while the vehicle is occupied and one that maintains the battery’s state of charge. These systems do not require additional HVAC components, can be combined with other technologies, and can avoid violating idle regulations.

Cons: They can be noisy, create vibration and adds to engine wear and tear.

Electronic engine idle parameters

Pros: Allows for the setting of specific speed, length of time and other boundaries including extreme temperature settings for engine idle. These settings are generally standard on new trucks, so there is no cost to use them.

Cons: Engine manufacturers use different terminology and there is a possibility that settings could be modified outside of desired ranges. Also, drivers may feel a fleet is trying to restrict the way they drive.

In addition, vehicle controls and driver behavior, driver training and driver incentives also merit consideration. Some additional technologies/solutions that could be beneficial, such as additional cab insulation, light-colored paint on the outside of the vehicle, ultracapacitor starting systems and solar panels also deserve consideration.

The most common combinations of technologies currently in use are:

  • Driver controls and fuel-operated heater
  • Diesel APU and fuel-operated heater
  • Battery HVAC and fuel-operated heater
  • Automatic engine start/stop system

“The most efficient and effective idle-reduction solution for a fleet will entail a combination of complementary technologies… For instance, several of the technologies, namely electronic engine parameters, driver incentives and extra cab/sleeper insulation, are going to contribute positively to almost any solution chosen. The right combination will depend on a given fleet’s routes, fuel costs, climate in the fleet’s area of operation, shop costs, maintenance cycles, training methods, driver support, fleet policies and other factors,” the report said.

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