Fuel Costs On Your Mind

The national average for gasoline has been hovering around $3 per gallon at presstime, which is the highest it has been since hurricane damage caused a gasoline price surge last fall. The Lundberg Survey, which monitors 7,000 filling stations nationwide, indicates that within the next few weeks the U.S. average fuel price will surpass the highest price it has ever reached per gallon. The average is currently only pennies away from the March 1981 peak, which adjusted for inflation, soared to a little more than $3 a gallon.
“We have a serious problem,” said President George Bush, during his State of the Union address in January. “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world."
Serious it is. And it’s not only affecting retail gasoline but diesel fuel, which reached more than $2.92 per gallon this month for the national average, peaking at $3.09 in California and at its lowest average of $2.86 in the lower Atlantic and Gulf Coast, reported the Energy Information Administration. With no indication that gasoline or diesel fuel prices will fall any time soon due to both natural and manmade causes, including unrest in the Middle East, the impact on distribution and industry is paramount.
The industry and government are stepping up with solutions to help. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army, UPS, International Truck and Engine Corp. and Eaton Corp. released the first-ever hydraulic hybrid diesel urban delivery vehicle, which will provide improvements in fuel economy and emission reductions.
The EPA and UPS plan to evaluate the vehicle’s fuel economy performance and emissions during a series of tests in 2006. In laboratory testing, the EPA’s hydraulic hybrid diesel technology achieved a 60 to 70 percent improvement in fuel economy and more than 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, compared to a conventional UPS vehicle.
The EPA says laboratory tests show the technology has the potential to dramatically improve the fuel economy of urban vehicles used in applications such as package delivery, shuttle and transit buses and refuse pick-up. The EPA also estimates that when manufactured in high volume, the added costs of the hybrid components could be recouped in less than three years through lower fuel and brake maintenance costs.
In the hydraulic hybrid diesel, a high-efficiency diesel engine is combined with a unique hydraulic propulsion system, replacing the conventional drivetrain and transmission. The vehicle uses hydraulic pumps and hydraulic storage tanks to store energy, similar to electric motors and batteries in hybrid electric vehicles. Fuel economy is increased in three ways: vehicle braking energy, which normally is wasted, is recovered; the engine operates more efficiently; and the engine can be shut off when the vehicle is idle or decelerating. The diesel hydraulic hybrid truck is potentially eligible for a tax credit that is up to 40 percent of its incremental cost under a provision of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
International and Eaton have been working with the EPA and the U.S. Army’s National Automotive Center on hydraulic technology for several years. In 2004, International, under a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, began work on Clean Diesel Combustion technology to dramatically reduce emissions inside the combustion chamber, minimizing the need for after-treatment.
Another program conducted through the government for carriers and shippers is SmartWay, a national voluntary program with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the freight trucking industry. Since its inception in February 2004, SmartWay projects have saved more than 283.6 million gallons of fuel.
Companies and organization are working with the EPA to incorporate fuel savings and emissions reduction strategies and technologies, such as idle reduction, improved aerodynamics, driver training and intermodal shipping. Most recently, the EPA partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Oregon’s Departments of Transportation and Energy, and Cascade Sierra Solutions to make the SmartWay upgrade kits available for long-haul trucks. The kits combine a variety of fuel and emissions-saving technologies and consist of engine idle reduction technology, low rolling-resistance tires, improved aerodynamics and exhaust after-treatment devices.
The EPA aims to upgrade 400 trucks traveling along the West Coast’s I-5 corridor. SmartWay Upgrade Kits can reduce fuel consumption, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by as much as 20 percent.
State government programs are helping distributors conduct programs to reduce fuel costs as well. At the end of 2005, Manhattan Beer Distributors expanded its fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) powered delivery trucks, with 15 new vehicles based at its Brooklyn warehouse, and dedicated a second CNG refueling station. In 2002, Manhattan Beer became the first private company in the Bronx to convert a portion of its fleet to CNG, and this year operates 30 CNG trucks in New York City.
Manhattan Beer’s 300 trucks average 30 to 40 miles per day within the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding area. The operation of 30 CNG trucks in Brooklyn over 10 years of operation will help reduce approximately 227 tons of vehicle pollution, eliminate the need for 700 oil changes, displace an estimated 601,423 gallons of diesel fuel, and will decrease engine noise by 90 percent. Manhattan Beer’s original group of CNG vehicles have logged more than 326,000 miles.
Twelve of the 15 29,000-pound beverage delivery trucks have been repowered with John Deere 6.8L CNG engines and three trucks have been repowered with Cummins-Westport 8.3L C-Gas Plus CNG engines. Each truck holds approximately 42 gallons (diesel gallon equivalent) of natural gas. The engines and tanks are installed by Bell Power Systems, the authorized distributor of John Deere natural gas engines in the eastern United States. The vehicles are fueled with domestically produced natural gas at the onsite CNG fueling station installed by Air & Gas Technologies.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority provided a $1 million grant through the New York City Department of Transportation Private Fleet/ Alternative Fuel Program to convert the most recent 15 Brooklyn-based vehicles from diesel to CNG and to develop a natural gas refueling station. This year, Manhattan Beer has received $931,462 in further funding to repower 10 additional delivery trucks with CNG and build a third refueling station.

10 ways to save fuel
1. Driver training – Shifting at the right time and reducing the amount of time a vehicle idles makes for a good driver. Catch a SmartWay, transportation department or vehicle provider offered class.
2. Engine – Normally, engine horsepower is spec’ed for a vehicle’s particular duty cycle when the truck is running down the highway. The horsepower usually is chosen based on the weight of the vehicle and the tires used. In reality, the stop-and-go nature of beverage truck distribution means a great portion of its duty cycle is going to be at speeds less than 45 miles per hour. An engine with less horsepower, for example 240 horsepower instead of 300, can be used.
3. Transmission – Spec’ing is the most important point in selecting a transmission for fuel economy. For the intended duty cycle consider: What are the speeds the vehicle will be running? What are the load weights? What gear will the vehicle be in to try to get the engine running at its most optimum speed to match that duty cycle?
4. Tires – A variety of new technologies can be used to reduce rolling resistance, including improved tire tread and shoulder designs and materials used in the tire belt and traction surfaces.
5. Aerodynamics – Spec for aerodynamics, such as adding a full roof fairing when pulling a van trailer or adding side extenders and chassis fairings. Specify all position tires, both in the front and rear, instead of cross-lug in the rear.
6. GPS – A well-planned route will pay for itself in less wasted time and wasted gas.
7. Speed limit – In highway driving, more than 50 percent of the energy required to move the vehicle down the road goes to overcoming aerodynamic drag (pushing air out of the way). As speed increases, aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance increase. As a result, at speeds above 55 miles per hour, fuel economy decreases rapidly.
8. Performance – Periodically calculate and monitor the vehicle's fuel economy performance. A loss of fuel economy could mean mechanical trouble.
9. Hybrids – Hybrid power systems use an electric motor to boost acceleration, cutting the amount of diesel fuel needed. The batteries are recharged during braking. Because medium-duty trucks make short trips and accelerate and brake more often in city traffic, there's more opportunity to take advantage of the hybrid technology than with sustained driving.
10. Alternative fuelsEthanol: Most new gasoline engines can support 10 percent ethanol without modification.
Biodiesel: The combination of diesel, which is processed from oil, and fuel from biological sources such as soy or food waste can run in most current diesel engines in blends of 5 percent, 10 percent and 20 percent biofuel.
Compressed natural gas (CNG): Natural gas is not refined from oil, and burns cleaner than gasoline, ethanol and biodiesel.
Hydrogen: Used in fuel cells, with the only emission being water vapor, hydrogen runs at near zero-emissions in advanced engines. Hydrogen fleets are cleaner than the vehicles they replace.