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Platooning could save 7% in fuel

Dec. 1, 2016
NTDA 2016 Convention highlights

Platooning isn’t here yet, but it will be. And it’s expected to be a significant driver in saving fuel.

It was one of the key technologies addressed by Dave Schaller, industry engagement director for the North American Council For Freight Efficiency (NACFE), in his presentation, “Trailers & NACFE.”

Platooning is two tractor-trailers traveling in line, very close to each other—usually 40 to 50 feet apart, which sets up air flows that help to “push” both trucks forward. In Peloton Technology Inc tests with CR England, platooning saved 7% at 65mph—10% for the rear truck and 4.5% for the lead truck.

The two trucks essentially brake at the same time through a wireless electronic communications system, also connected to the Internet. It tells the second truck when the first truck driver has braked, and the second truck brakes almost instantaneously without driver intervention.

Dave Schaller, North American Council For Freight Efficiency

“You can’t order platooning yet, but a lot of OEMs and electronic suppliers are working on this,” Schaller said. “It’s being tested and our report summarizes that. It’s going to be tremendous when it does finally get legalized and validated. OEMs have proven among themselves they can talk to their own vehicles.

“You’d be hard-pressed to take these other technologies and find anything in 4.5% to 10% fuel-efficiency gain off of an operating area. Our report doesn’t predict you’re going to get huge numbers, because you won’t be platooning all the time in the life of your vehicle. It will probably be over a 3-4% gain in your vehicles.”

Schaller said NACFE is dedicated to doubling the efficiency of North American goods movement by improving the quality of information flow and highlighting successful adoption of technologies.

He said NACFE’s confidence reports are valuable to trailer dealers because they offer free education to staff and unbiased information for customers, and also provide a competitive spec benchmark.

NACFE’s first report was on tire pressure systems and included these conclusions:

•  Reliability and durability are acceptable.

•  Adoption is increasing, lowering the purchase cost.

•  Strong options exist and creative solutions continue to be developed.

•  Confidence should be high, with payback in 12 to 18 months.

He said lightweighting could involve aluminum wheels replacing steel wheels. In determining efficiency, there are a number of variables to consider: ambient temperature; wind, rain, and snow; road surfaces; road grade; tractor configuration; vehicle maintenance level; assembly tolerances; ice, snow, mud, and dirt; driving profile (duty cycle); traffic aerodynamics; vehicle and component age; driver behavior; and measurement system precision.

In terms of trailer aerodynamics, NACFE executive director Mike Roeth said, “Fleets have moved from asking why they need aerodynamic devices on their trailers to determining when and how they will add them.”

NACFE released its annual Fleet Fuel Study on August 24. It involved three new fleets and a total of 62,000 tractors and 217,000 trailers, with 15,000 data points. NACFE asked fleets to go backwards in their purchasing behaviors over the past decade. They were asked:

•  Which freight-efficiency technologies are most popular on new tractors and trailers?

•  Did you keep buying them?

•  Are they delivering fuel savings?

“Until 2008, there was little going on in aerodynamics for trailers,” Schaller said. “In 2008, we started seeing skirts. Now look at these sample fleets. Over 20% of their trailers have some sort of aerodynamics on them already. Over a 10- to 20-year lifespan, you don’t expect that number to go to 100% real fast, but it’s moving up fairly rapidly.”

Although the average price of a gallon of diesel fuel has dropped from $4 in 2012 to $2.70 this year, the adoption of aerodynamic technologies has increased 10% in that time frame.

“They’re moving forward to cut their costs,” he said.

The average mpg in 2015 was 3% better than in 2014, and 2015 trucks are 16% better than the ones they replace.

“There’s one fleet that’s over 9 mpg on average,” he said. “We have owner-operators that follow us religiously, and some of them are crashing over the 10 mpg mark. It’s interesting how fast some of these are moving forward.”

He also debunked various GHG myths that have persisted amid the new Phase 2 regulations that were proposed and finally published in the Federal Register on October 25.

•  Big costs with no savings.

“There are definitely fuel savings there. It’s a challenge on what the paybacks are to make sure they work and fleets want to buy them.”

•  Compliance falls to fleets.

“Actually, it falls to the truck, trailer, and engine manufacturers. We’re out there trying to comfort fleets: ‘Yeah, it will probably have some impact on you, but you have to work that out with OEMs and dealerships.’ ”

•  Waste heat recovery is mandatory.

“No single technology is mandatory. A lot of people are concerned that some of these advanced technologies they hear about are going to get shoved down their throats. The law was intentionally written to allow a smorgasbord of ways for you to get there, so they’re not going to force weird technologies.”

•  A pre-buy is inevitable.

“Only if the payback and confidence is not sufficient. The challenge we have in the whole industry is to avoid pre-buys and all the bad things that does to everyone. We need to work together as fleets, dealerships, OEMs, and suppliers to try to work through the testing and validation so when these things need to come on board, they’re proven they have payback and don’t create headaches.”

He said NACFE provided financial backing and worked with OEMs and suppliers on SuperTrucks and SuperTrailers.

“The challenge was to make vehicles 50% more efficient,” he said. “Not all these technologies are ready for prime time. But this is good chance to take a peek at what it takes to get there.

“We had four teams: Cummins Peterbilt had a tractor-trailer combo that hit 10.7 mpg; Daimler got 12.3 mpg; Volvo got over 12 mpg; and Navistar got 13 mpg. There were many trailer technologies, including full trailer skirts, new trailer tails, noise cones, suspension height controls, and lightweighting. It’s very foreseeable that we will as a nation and North America as a continent see a doubling of fuel efficiency in our lifetime.”

Emerging Trailer Technology
Derek Kaufman, managing partner of Schwartz Advisors

Kaufman talked about positioning your dealership for the future of trailer technology through these elements:

Regenerative braking and suspension generators.

“Dealers need to get ready for more electrification in vehicles. That’s because lithium ion batteries and super capacitors are coming down in price and up in application. There will be all kinds of ways to store energy for other uses to replace diesel fuel and components. Trailer drives and battery charging alternatives are emerging technologies.

Derek Kaufman, Schwartz Advisors

“KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) are moving from F1 racing to trucking. They capture energy from vehicle braking to charge batteries that drive electric wheel motors or other electrical systems on the truck.

“Hyliion drive axle is an aftermarket solution that replaces passive axle with drive axle. It stores regenerative braking energy, then transfers it to the drive axle during vehicle acceleration. It’s undergoing road testing now.

“Levant GenShock are suspension generators that were first introduced with ZF in 2013. They convert vertical motion through hydraulic valve to turn the motor/stator. It generates electricity and stores in an ultra capacitor for multiple uses on a vehicle.”

•  Natural gas reefer power.

“Tank infrastructure and filling times are the primary barriers to the use of CNG for reefer power units. Volute Inc is developing a conformable natural gas tank offering 20% volume increase in widely varying form factors. GE is developing ‘CNG in a box’—lower priced natural gas compressors. Adsorbed Natural Gas Products is working to lower CNG compression levels from 3600 psi to 900 psi and below.

•  Platooning.

“Close proximity decreases resistance. The lead truck ‘makes a hole’ in the wind. The rear truck experiences a 10% fuel economy gain while the front truck sees a 4.5% gain, and a 7% combined gain could mean $1750 per truck per year. Peloton has a usage-based fee structure, with the fleet paying a per-mile fee to use the system. There’s no subscription fee when not platooning. There’s a one-time installation cost that’s kept low to maximize payback.” ♦

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.