Three Ways to Improve Efficiency

August 22, 2023

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The good news is that fleets are faced with myriad choices when it comes to powering their vehicles. Diesel, compressed natural gas, battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen used in internal combustion engines, renewable natural gas, renewable diesel, biodiesel — the list is long. This is also the bad news, as sometimes it is difficult to know which option is best. Think of it as being at a restaurant with an extensive menu where there are many options for your dinner. It can be hard to choose your meal from all the available selections, especially if all are apt to be equally good and will serve the purpose of satisfying your hunger.

NACFE has dubbed this time the “messy middle,” as there is no one clear choice for fleets when it comes to powertrains.

We believe that in cases where battery-electric power makes sense, fleets should move in that direction and move quickly. Duty cycles where battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are viable today include terminal tractors, vans and step vans, medium-duty box trucks, and short heavy-duty regional haul. BEVs have proven themselves in these duty cycles, especially in return-to-base operations.

Many fleets have been piloting electric vehicles in their operations with success, and some fleets have moved beyond just having one or two BEVs to having 15, 20, or even more. Run on Less – Electric DEPOT is showcasing 10 fleets that have 15 or more BEVs operating out of one depot. As an example, by the end of September Schneider will have 92 BEVs at its South El Monte, California, location — the depot will be 100% electric. The other nine depots have equally compelling stories to tell about their electrification journeys. There is a profile video of each fleet depot on the Run on Less website, and I encourage you to watch those to get their real-world experience with adding BEVs at scale. The videos look at not only the benefits of adding BEVs but some of the challenges these fleets faced and how they overcome them. Throughout the Run, which begins September 11, we will be posting updates via dashboards showing how the trucks are preforming, including how much energy they are using and state of charge throughout the day.

If BEVs or their sister technology, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, are not right for you at this time, look at other alternatives for reducing emissions. Truck and engine makers have product offerings available that might be better suited to your operating conditions. It is important to keep in mind that there may be more than one answer to the “which powertrain is right for me” question.

At this point, diesel is the only fuel that will work in all applications, but the drawback to diesel is that it is not as clean as the alternatives.

We expect the future of trucking to be a zero-emission one, but we also expect that transition to take place over several decades. If diesel makes sense for your fleet, keep working to improve the number of miles you are getting from a gallon of diesel. More miles equal less fuel used, and that is a form of decarbonization of your operations.

Fleets should consider aerodynamic devices and other options for improving fuel efficiency, regardless of what is powering their trucks. These things help save money for diesel truck operators and improve the range of alternative-fueled vehicles.

During the next several decades, we will see significant advancements in the various powertrain options available to fleets as manufacturers work on improving the various technologies and the industry tackles infrastructure and other issues that are obstacles to decarbonization.

Whether you move to BEVs, switch to an alternative fuel for your trucks, or focus on improving the efficiency of your existing (and future) diesel trucks, you need to begin making some operational changes because it is clear that the future of trucking is going to be clean.