The trucking industry is not inclined toward self-congratulations, but when it comes to improving efficiency and reducing emissions, it is time for this hard-working business to stand up and take a bow. As of 2007, for example, exhaust from a new truck or bus fueled by ultralow sulfur diesel became so much cleaner that it would take 60 new trucks to equal the soot emissions of one truck sold in 1988, according to the Diesel Technology Forum. By 2010, when even tougher emissions standards go into effect, new truck and bus emissions levels will approach zero, and it will take more than 53 new trucks to equal the oxides of nitrogen emissions of a single 1988 vehicle.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicts that these next-generation trucks, once they entirely replace the existing fleet by about 2030, will reduce emissions of oxides of nitrogen by 2.6 million tons per year and cut soot (particulate emissions) by 110,000 tons annually. In terms of impact on human health, the EPA expects these emissions reductions will prevent some 8,300 premature deaths, 1.5 million lost workdays and 7,100 hospital admissions per year due to pollution-related illnesses such as asthma.

Although tougher emissions regulations fired the starting gun in this race down the green road, other factors have been driving the trucking industry forward as well, particularly the need for greater efficiency. The EPA's own voluntary program, the SmartWay Transport Partnership, has been helping the industry to realize its efficiency goals since 2002, when the first 15 charter members signed on.

Today, SmartWay's vehicle certification program, financing programs for purchasing new vehicles or upgrading older trucks, heavy-duty fuel economy test program, and outreach efforts have put the partnership at the center of the industry's green movement and made SmartWay's specs and practices a benchmark for measuring freight transport efficiency. Since its beginning, SmartWay has grown to more than 1,900 partners, including affiliate and logistics partners as well as shippers, carriers and brokers.

According to Matthew Payne, a co-developer of the program, SmartWay partners have saved over 1 billion gals. of fuel and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 12 million tons. Many have made “significant efficiency gains,” he notes, and are generally ahead of the curve on technology adoption and operational efficiencies. “We can expect SmartWay to play a key role in carbon tracking and efficiency determination in the future,” Payne says.

“All roads lead to efficiency,” observes Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA). “Trucking is, by nature, a very efficient business, and it has gotten even more so. Today, people really know what efficiency is all about. They know what SmartWay is and how to spec a truck to greatly improve operating efficiency. They are becoming very educated, very savvy, very sophisticated. Fleets are doing their own testing and evaluation of systems and equipment, for instance, to see what really delivers benefits for them.”

MUCH MORE TO COME

Like many other industry leaders, Kedzie is deeply involved in efforts to help trucking achieve its efficiency goals while reducing fuel consumption, toxic emissions and greenhouse gases in the bargain. “There is so much going on now at so many levels, if you concentrate on just one layer, you miss the bigger picture,” he says.

“There is the Climate Change bill [a.k.a. the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454)], for instance,” Kedzie notes. “The latest version would put the responsibility on the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases as pollution. Right now, the Dept. of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sets standards for fuel economy, while the EPA has been concerned with reducing vehicle emissions to improve air quality. The bill also includes carbon cap and trade provisions.

“The EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard is also out there, which will force a reduction in fossil fuel use by requiring that an increasing amount of renewable fuel be blended into gasoline,” he adds. In 2008, 9 billion gals. of renewable fuel were blended into the nation's gasoline. By 2022, the standard currently will call for a minimum of 36 billion gals. of renewable fuel from various sources.

“There is also a great deal of activity at the state level. California Assembly Bill 32, for instance, will require more efficient equipment, as well as the retrofit of older trucks, [in order to meet the 2020 greenhouse gas reduction requirements the bill also mandates],” he says. “Then there are all the federal and state-level programs designed to help incentivize cleaner, more efficient trucks.

“ATA itself has an initiative under way with the National Academy of Sciences and others to look at fuel efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks as part of a Congressionally mandated effort,” he adds. “The goals are to use less fuel, reduce toxic emissions and reduce carbon. We also have a sustainability measure that includes six major recommendations to improve efficiency, and we are very involved with all the different green issues currently being debated on Capitol Hill.

“Cost is probably the biggest single obstacle to remove when it comes to achieving greater efficiency,” Kedzie notes. “We may all want to do the right things right now, but in times like these, companies have to watch every penny. If you have a limited amount of capital, you become very careful about where you spend it. Do you save more? Or do you invest now in order to earn more [in the future]?”

NO TURNING BACK

“We have seen a major shift in the industry's point of view as a whole,” says Sandor Lau, development director for Cascade Sierra Solutions, a nonprofit organization founded in 2006 to help reduce fuel consumption and curb emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks by promoting and installing idle reduction equipment and other efficiency-enhancing components. “Today, companies are saying, ‘sure idling is regulated now, but that isn't necessarily bad for our bottom line either, or for our company image.’ Clean technologies are also better, more widely available and more publicized than they used to be.”

Cascade Sierra has kept track of its progress and maintains an online Progress Report. As of June 5, the organization had upgraded 1,464 vehicles for an average fuel economy improvement of 11.28%, saving 5.3 million gals. of fuel, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 54,193 metric tons, and reduced NOx emissions by 449.30 metric tons. “Our goal is to have retrofitted 30,000 trucks by 2013,” says Lau.

According to Lau, the recent wave of federal funding for cleaner, more efficient trucks will dramatically accelerate the greening of the industry and deliver “huge benefits” to society in terms of human health, jobs, reduced dependency on foreign oil, air quality and climate change. “I think the stimulus funding will change the face of diesel for the future,” he says. “You wouldn't see an investment this major except in a time of crisis. It just wouldn't happen. But the benefits, the payback will be astronomical.”

For more information…

ATA's sustainability initiative: www.trucksdeliver.org

California's AB 32: www.arb.ca.gov/cc/factsheets/ab32factsheet.pdf

Cascade Sierra Solutions: www.cascadesierrasolutions.org

Diesel Technology Forum: www.dieselforum.org

EPA SmartWay Partnership: www.epa.gov/smartway

Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454): www.opencongress.org