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Potential Reactions to the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Phase 2 Rules

Earlier this month the White House, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration put out their final “Phase 2” rules for greenhouse gas/fuel economy for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles.

The rules are set to cover all semi-trucks, vans and large pickup trucks. They will also govern buses and work trucks manufactured during the model years 2021 – 2027. Once the standards have been completely phased in, future tractor-trailer combinations will be required to knock a full quarter percent off of their carbon dioxide emissions and fuel consumption when compared to an equivalent vehicle with a 2018 manufacturing date.

What it Covers

When it comes to what kind of equipment you buy and how that equipment will function when getting the job done, these rules will apply. While there were some negative early reactions, most of the response has been positive. The fact is, fuel economy and carbon emissions are a reality, and the trucking industry is facing them head on.

With the United States facing some serious challenges in greenhouse gas reduction, manufacturers and government agencies will need to partner up to develop innovative new solutions to fuel economy and emissions problems.

For many, building on existing industry leadership will be crucial in this endeavor. Many major manufacturers are already showing support for regulations designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.

What many wanted to see in the new rule was a collaborative effort. They expected the final rule to provide clear, long-term targets that apply not just to the engine, but to the entire vehicle itself. They also wanted the rule to give industry players enough time to adapt and choose how to achieve the reductions in a way that doesn’t harm their business.

Potential Engineering Challenges

There are also engineering feats to consider. Although many are proud of their achievements, manufacturers understand that it will take a serious effort, backed up with a lot of brain power, to achieve a 25% reduction in both emissions and fuel consumption.

Considering big players like Cummins and Daimler have already proven their capability in meeting Phase 1 efforts, getting to Phase 2 shouldn’t be extraordinarily difficult. With industry players getting to work with the EPA and NHTSA during the draft review process, the final rule is able to better clarify how it impacts the needs of both motor carriers and their customers.

Trailer makers are, of course, definitely a concerned participant in the conversation, and the final ruling does include trailers. Some trailer manufacturers have called the final eco2 targets “more stringent,” but are vowing to find ways to comply.

One manufacturer, Great Dane Trailers, has reported working on some of the lightest reefer and flatbeds on the market. While they expect to see a jump in initial acquisition costs, they do note that their customers will see improvements in their cost of ownership over the long-term.

What Does the ATA Say?

Unsurprisingly, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) quickly came out with an extensive statement evaluating the GHG proposals. According to their statement, they “developed and adopted a set of 15 guiding principles.” These guiding principles would serve as parameters for inclusion once the rule was finalized.

They went on to express pleasure that their concerns were heard and included in the final rule. A few things they recommended included:

  • Adequate lead time
  • Technology development markers
  • National harmonization of standards
  • Manufacturer flexibility

In the end, the ATA reports that they will continue to work with the EPA and NHTSA, though they did highlight transparency and accommodation to industry-sensitive concerns as sticking points. As the GHG Phase 2 rule is rolled out, we’ll see how this story evolves over time.

The fact is, improved fuel economy is a goal that shouldn’t be hard for stakeholders to unite around. While the new targets may represent a challenge to some in the industry, most are focused on meeting their goals in a way that has a minimal impact on fleets or other industry participants.

Are Hybrid Electric Drive Tandems The Answer?

Sure, it’s hard to imagine a hybrid truck, but thanks to new technologies, times are a-changin’. While hybrid setups are complex and more expensive, here is still hope in the form of hybrid trailers. Not only they are comparatively simpler and cheaper, they quickly pay back their owners on initial investment.

In fact, one group of engineers in Pittsburg, Pa. is developing an as yet unnamed device that should be ready for market around mid-2017. The system is designed to capture energy as the tractor-trailer runs downhill, then reapplies it through a drive axle when the truck is running up a hill.

The best part? Outside of an on/off switch, the entire operation runs completely autonomously. Electronic controls are able to read road conditions, terrain and speed to optimally assist the tractor during vehicle operations.

All About That Mass

The main problem with big rig efficiency lies in their mass. Why can’t all that weight be captured and put to good use, as many hybrid passenger cars do today? This new company essentially uses lithium ion batteries and regenerative breaking technology to generate, capture and reuse power.

While there are a number of different battery and motor combinations out there, falling prices are making much easier for new entrants to begin innovating. As supplies go down in price, being environmentally conscious becomes quite beneficial.

What if you could save over 21 percent in fuel savings just from using a tandem trailer? Add aerodynamic accessories, and you could see that number jump to a full quarter of a percent, no small amount no matter what the price of a gallon of gas may be at the moment.

Even better, these new hybrid trailer setups would come out of the gate designed to meet the proposed Phase 2 greenhouse-gas and fuel economy regulations unveiled by the EPA.

How Does It Work?

By the end of its design period, a hybrid trailer may come complete with axles and a suspension that would completely replace the existing setups we use today. Even better, a hybrid tandem system could be changed out in less than 30 minutes.

The suspension itself could be either mechanical or air spring, with a sliding tandem being the first one planned. A fairing will be mounted ahead of the tandem to ensure air flow remains smooth and all electronic and mechanical components are protected.

The first step is in using a drive axle with a differential for standard trailer axles. A 300-hp Remy motor-generator could then transmit energy into a battery pack set directly in between the two rails of the slider box. The whole setup would then propel the trailer through the axle differential and wheel shafts.

While early prototypes used belts and pulleys to transfer power, production models will mount the motor within the differential so that the motor can be gear-driven. Determining the gear rations would depend on usage, with one set calibrated for an operator doing local pick-up and delivery and another for highway use.

Algorithms would program an electronic control unit, itself used to process data from GPS systems and wheel sensors. These complex algorithms would then be able to determine what road speed should be maintained. If there is a wheel slip, the system can alter the energy capture to maintain control. The system could also work in tandem with onboard anti-lock braking systems or electronic stability control units.

While a hybrid-electric tandem would pack on an extra 400 or 500 pounds, some of that could be offset by changing from dual wheels to widebase tires.  And better yet, excess power could be used to power a sleeper cab HVAC system. Imagine this not just as a fuel saving option, but also as an auxiliary power unit.

In the end, the overarching goal goes back to the truck itself. When you have a 80,000-pound vehicle throwing its weight around, why not capture some of that energy for future use?

Have You Heard Of The California-Compliant Trailer For Trucking?

In the last five years it’s likely you’ve seen an explosion of trailers sporting side skirts and tail fairings. In large part, the vast increase is a result of regulatory changes in the state of California. While there was some hand-flapping when it was introduced by the California Air Resources Board in 2009, it didn’t take long for motor carriers to realize that this is one regulation that would actually help save them money.

Although many at first thought the regulation unnecessary, it served in large part to help increase the focus on aerodynamics and fuel cost savings. Under the rule, 25-foot box-type trailers – whether dry or reefer – must be equipped with SmartWay-approved side skirts or tail fairings. It requires a 4 to 5 percent fuel economy savings when combined with low-rolling-resistance tires.

There Will Be Exemptions

Since the rule was implemented, however, there have been a host of exemptions that allow for varying degrees of compliance dates depending on fleet size and operational engagement (I.E. Long-haul or regional).

This presents a challenge for smaller fleets. It becomes difficult for them to figure out which exemptions apply to them and whether or not their fleet meets the requirements. As a result, some fleet owners are getting hit with citations merely for not knowing the exemption date for their fleet.

And as many of the exemptions reach their sunset period, the certainty surrounding these accessories remains. As Phase 2 of the federal greenhouse gas regulation hits the national stage following the conclusion of the comment period, using items like side skirts and tail fairings will certainly become nearly ubiquitous.

A Rule For All Trucks

If the Environmental Protection Agency’s Phase 2 rule remains largely unchanged following the end of the comment period, fleets nationwide should get prepared to start spec’ing their trailers to help aid in tractor fuel economy.

And the proposal governs more than just side skirts and fairings. It also contains language on LRR tires, automatic tire inflation systems and other lightweight components. Non-box trailers are not left out. While they may not require certain aerodynamic components, they will still need LRR tires and automatic tire inflation systems.

What To Consider

If the rule goes nationwide, expect many of the same problems faced by California drivers. If you are operating in one of these fleet types, pay extra care to how closely these compliance measures apply to you:

  • Fleets with high concentrations of regional or local work.
  • Parts of the country/region with lower speed limits.
  • Fleets with high trailer-to-tractor ratios.
  • If you are a leasing company or non-owner of a trailer.

Also keep in mind that the aerodynamic challenges of the day will be met by new technologies tomorrow. Our understanding of fuel economy and performance engineering will continue to evolve. Still, some say there is a finite number of ways that you can treat a trailer before there’s no more tht can be done.

There are limitations at play, after all. How effective a side fairing is, for example, is limited by its dimensions. Try to design taller or longer skirts and then you have to worry about ground strikes or trailer access for maintenance purposes.

As seen when the EPA unveiled their SuperTruck Project, these problems can be overcome. Even today, aero research technicians are testing out advances new designs, aided by such innovations as geometric shaping, vortex generators and longitudinal grooves.

As new nano-materials come online, expect new advances in the way air flows around the trailer, as well. Air-flow separation and wake management are exciting new areas of research in materials science. But the question remains, how much will you see of this technology?

Well, if the government has anything to say about it, you might be seeing a lot more. And while it’s easy to dismiss government regulations as overly onerous and burdensome, in this case, it might not be such a bad thing.

Trucking Braces for New Environmental Protection Agency Regulations

As the administration continues to focus on efforts to combat climate change, President Obama has added emission rules for big-rigs to the agenda.

Some time ago, the president gave the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the go-ahead to develop new rules designed to improve fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions for heavy-duty trucks. Now the industry is looking to see whether smaller fleets can meet the standard without going out of business.

The New York Times has come out saying they already know what the proposed rule will be, although it has not yet been published to the agency’s register. According to their report an official notice could come any day now. Although the exact number may not yet be known, let’s take a look at the signals we’ve been getting from the agency to date.

New Governmental Regulations

Although many at first assumed these regulations governed only the truck and the engine, the EPA has also added emission regulations for trailers, fairings and rolling resistance. According to one administration official, the unveiling will be a “big rule” that contains so many different components, it easily could be broken down into separate regulations by themselves.

While there is much anticipation of this new rule, it won’t actually go into effect for another four years. In 2011, the EPA outlined rules for vehicle model years 2014 – 2018. This new rule will govern vehicle model years “post-2018,” likely through 2027.

The government has reported that these changes will reduce petroleum consumption by more than 530 million barrels of oil and reduce carbon emissions by 270 million metric tons.

Current long-haul truck fuel economy averages are in the neighborhood of 5.5 to 6 miles per gallon (mpg). The 2011 rule pegged the standard to a 20 percent savings. The final number for later years is set to have heavy-duty commercial trucks increase their fuel economy by as much as 40 percent through 2027, when compared to 2010 levels.

These new heavy-duty truck rules are in addition to a bevy of hotly contested emissions rules the government is instituting for power plants, dubbed the Clean Power Plan. The president is using emissions reductions as a key final part to his second-term legacy-building efforts.

From Trucking’s Perspective

Fleets have been moving to greater efficiency for some time now. One truck from the 1970s belched out more carbon emissions than 67 of today’s trucks running at full throttle. While more can always be done, trucking wants to make sure jobs and commerce aren’t threatened by regulation.

As Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) Representative Scott Grenerth pointed out, there are two main concerns that industry has regarding the rule. “The cost of the truck, and reliability of the truck – that’s the bottom line,” he stated.

After traveling to Washington, D.C. last month to meet with the White House budget office, Grenerth came away saying reliability and downtime for truck repairs were the focus. They also discussed a cost-benefit rule and how to mesh emissions goals with fuel economy standards.

Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Truck Associations (ATA), while saying he has no idea what the eventual rule will be, conceded that the EPA has done an extreme amount of outreach to win over industry insiders. In his own words it has been “a lot more than I have ever seen on a rule.”

Even so, Kedzie is not without reservation. These regulations are broad in their scope and carry major implications for the trucking industry.

“A truck is a mobile office,” he went on to say. “It’s a cog to keep this economy moving along. The EPA is dealing with this economic aspect here. They have to be careful not to make the standards cost prohibitive.”

Observers are suggesting that the EPA will take a bit longer than The New York Times posited to issue the new truck standards. As the trucking industry holds its breath, only time will tell what the final rule will be. When it hits, you can be sure we’ll report on it.

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