September 26, 2023

The transport sector receives discounts on fuel-saving initiatives

In an ongoing effort to reduce carbon-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, the federal government is working with Manitoba to help support fuel-saving efforts in the province’s trucking industry.

Nearly $7 million in rebates will be offered this year to applicants willing to retrofit their facilities with fuel-saving devices and technologies.

According to the provincial government, the funding has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by 51 million liters per year, which equates to about 120,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The rebates, channeled through the Efficient Trucking program, offer up to a 50 percent refund on the installation of low rolling resistance tires and technologies that improve aerodynamics and help minimize the need for idling.

Industry is already making great progress

Ryan Scheurer of Upper Deck Transportation in Ste. Agathe is becoming increasingly familiar with new emission reduction technologies. In addition to helping manage the family business, he is also a heavy-duty mechanic trained by Cummins Inc., an innovative multinational engine company.

To complete his trucking expertise, he also goes on long-haul transports when required.

Scheurer says the trucking industry has made some pretty big strides over the past 13 years.

“Almost all new trucks have emission systems that make them almost zero emissions,” says Scheurer. “The emissions that come out of their exhaust are better than the emissions that come out of a car, and these are 80,000 pound units running down the highway to deliver your groceries. So they are quite good.”

In 2010, he says, all newly produced heavy trucks had to be equipped with an exhaust gas after-treatment system (EATS). The highly technical system consists of a special filter that captures carbon and other unburned particles in the exhaust. From there, the gases pass through a second system that virtually eliminates the gases that cause air pollution.

But the system is not cheap and it is not without problems.

“These systems cost around $12,000 to replace and they can cause you a lot of headaches,” says Scheurer. “The sensors and all those extra things they have to put on the engine to meet the requirements, you have to have a full warranty and you pay a lot of money for that. Like over $10,000. And you don’t want to keep a truck after the warranty has expired, because then problems can only arise.”

For this reason, he says, smaller trucks and farms are more likely to try to keep their older diesel trucks running longer. There’s no easy fix, he adds, other than doing what California did and completely banning vehicles built before 2010.

This, he says, would affect about 30 percent of the heavy trucks on the road, killing many small industries. He hopes it doesn’t come to that.

Much more can be done

While it is important to convert harmful greenhouse gas emissions into non-polluting gases, this is not the only answer. It is also imperative to find ways to reduce the exorbitant amount of fuel consumed by the trucking industry.

“The fuel that goes into it is [equivalent to] the emissions that come out’, says Scheurer.

And one of the most wasteful ways to use fuel is idling the engine, which happens on the road for much of the day in a long-haul vehicle.

In many large installations, the engine runs the air conditioning and heating. Running the engine at idle is the only way for a truck driver to maintain a good ambient temperature while sleeping or waiting at border crossings.

“It’s about the comfort, if you live in a truck it has to be comfortable,” says Scheurer. “If it is 30 degrees outside, it will be 45 degrees in the truck.”

During the winter months, idling also becomes necessary to prevent the engine from not starting due to cold temperatures. According to Scheurer, this is necessary when the temperature drops to -10ºC at night.

At idle, the average truck consumes 3.5 liters of fuel per hour. In winter this can be up to 5.5 liters per hour. That works out to about $50 to $75 per night.

In addition, diesel engines are not built to idle, and neither are the expensive EATS.

“The problem is that when you idle a truck, you get a lot of unburned hydrocarbons and emissions, soot and ash, and that clogs up the [EATS] filter,” says Scheurer.

To compensate, the engine performs filter cleaning by creating extremely high temperatures.

“If you let your truck idle that much, you’re doing this all the time [cleaning], which affects the post system and can cost you big bucks. And for that you use a lot of fuel.”

For this reason, more and more trucks are equipped with auxiliary power units (APUs), similar to the generators on large camper vans.

These are some of the anti-idling technologies supported by the government initiative.

According to Scheurer, the fuel-powered version of the APU uses about $10 in fuel per hour, compared to the $50 used by the engine while idling.

“So after the government pays out this rebate, you can get a payment of about $200 a month to cover this APU,” he says. “Don’t idle your truck for five days and you’ll have paid off your monthly payment.”

However, as far as Scheurer is aware, APUs do not have built-in emissions systems to protect the environment.

The future of alternative energies in freight transport

According to Scheurer, many short-haul fleets that make last-mile deliveries are switching to natural gas engines.

“Starting and stopping traffic is a huge problem with diesel engines, because to achieve the efficiency of the diesel, you have to increase the revs. You see when trucks leave the lights, there’s a little bit of black smoke [from the exhaust]. Trucks running on natural gas drive a lot cleaner.”

One day, he says, these vehicles could all run on electricity.

“I’d like to see that all go electric,” says Scheurer. “I think that is a possibility [we might see in the future]. But for highway trucks traveling long distances, that is currently not an option. The technology is lacking in my opinion and we haven’t quite figured it out yet.”

There are a number of reasons for this, he says, not least the lack of charging infrastructure across the continent.

But it’s also the battery technology that doesn’t support long-haul travel without frequent stops. Even if there are regular charging stations along the way, charging the batteries takes hours compared to the minutes it takes to refuel.

Lost time is lost revenue and a complete slowdown in the movement of goods from one place to another.

Still, Scheurer is optimistic that good changes are happening, if not as quickly as some would like.

“It looks like a lot of money is going into it [environmentally-friendly technology] right now and it’s going to be interesting to see what they throw against the wall and what sticks. There are so many [options] to play with. But to be honest I don’t see diesel trucks going anywhere for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Brenda Sawatzky, reporter for the local journalism initiative, The Niverville Citizen

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