Fuel Efficiency in Fleets

The National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) began its annual Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 5th. One of the opening day highlights was a presentation by the featured speaker, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Stephen Chu. Secretary Chu touched on several topics of interest to trucking companies and offered his perspective on how current political and energy trends will impact the North American trucking industry. Chu also outlined plans by the Obama Administration to work proactively to assist trucking companies to increase fuel efficiency by supporting policies that would reduce the cost of adopting new fuel saving technologies that could boost productivity and will ultimately lead to better ROI – a development that could make fuel efficiency more accessible for fleets of all sizes.

Secretary Chu also discussed long term strategies to address issues that impact truck driving jobs like the need to keep fuel prices affordable to sustain the growth of the transportation sector and the larger economy and ways to manage unpredictable spikes in fuel costs. Some of the long term strategies that Secretary Chu and the Obama Administration are exploring that may be of interest to those with truck driving jobs include encouraging advancement in the development of improved powertrains, and reducing the weight of commercial trucks by manufacturing future models using new technologies like strong but lightweight steel.

Chu also spoke of efforts by the Department of Energy to accelerate the development of alternative energy sources like biofuels, which are created by mixing bacteria or yeast with organic materials like grass to generate chemical reactions that can be used to create more environmentally friendly energy. Secretary Chu also touted advancements in the development of electric vehicles, and he indicated the Obama Administration is working to reduce the high cost of electric vehicle batteries, which is a major hindrance to the wide scale adoption of this technology.

The Department of Energy is also promoting initiatives like the adoption of newly developed undertray systems that increase the aerodynamic performance of existing truck trailers, providing an immediate savings of up to 10% on fuel costs. Another highlight of Chu’s presentation was his discussion of the government’s investment in extensive research using advanced supercomputer simulations to significantly decrease the amount of time it takes for new engine technology, like the 6-liter Cummins diesel engine, to move from testing to market.

Secretary Chu indicated that the Department of Energy is also exploring ways to make U.S. natural gas reserves more affordable for use in commercial trucking by pursuing policies that that will boost currently underdeveloped infrastructure and help to lower the high cost of acquisition, although he felt that the development of an affordable and accessible natural gas market could take up to 4 years to become reality.

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Fuel efficiency increases are the best way for us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  I hope we make some big improvements in efficiency in the next few years.

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