Idle reduction is hot (and cool)

The sudden growth in demand for idle reduction solutions is creating a dynamic and expanding marketplace, which can make it even more difficult for carriers to identify the best solution for their particular operation

The sudden growth in demand for idle reduction solutions is creating a dynamic and expanding marketplace, which can make it even more difficult for carriers to identify the best solution for their particular operation. All told, there are about 40 different aftermarket idle reduction solutions available in the U.S. and Canada today. These can be roughly divided into seven categories: integrated auxiliary power units (APUs), self-contained generator systems, fuel-fired heaters, battery-based systems, engine idle management or “idle shutdown” systems, stationary electrical or “shore power” solutions and other. There are also a growing number of hybrid solutions available that combine various elements from one or more categories.

The idle reduction business is positively booming, too. Many suppliers are increasing their product offerings and/or adding manufacturing and service capacity to try to keep up. At the same time, new companies large and small are entering the market, and many truck makers are also introducing OEM-installed idle reduction options for their customers.

BUSINESS IS BOOMING

“We are busier than ever before,” confirms Rex Greer president of Pony Pack, Inc., one of the first suppliers of integrated auxiliary power systems. “Right now, we are working with several major fleets and expanding our dealer ranks.”

The story is the same at RigMaster Power Corp., another long-time supplier of idle reduction systems. In January, the company announced that they would be building a second manufacturing plant to help handle the demand. “Sales have exploded over the past year and lead times have stretched out,” explained general sales manager Gary Lisson. “I am glad to say with the additional facility in place, our customers won't have to wait to start saving fuel, saving money and saving the environment.”

Espar Heater Systems, a supplier of diesel-fired bunk heaters, is also expanding to keep up with product demand according to John Dennehy, vp of marketing for the company. “We had an absolutely great year in 2005,” he notes. “Now we are moving from our 21,000 square-foot facility to a new 80,000 square-foot facility. We don't see it winding down, either. We are forecasting exponential growth through 2008.”

Suppliers of stationary idle reduction solutions or shore power are likewise building out their networks to eventually create “corridors” where AC power and other services such as cable TV and Internet access are available for drivers to plug into all along the way. Jeff Kim, COO for ShurePower, for example, says that the company currently has contracts for 11 new sites, including several in Oregon and Washington along I-5.

“We'd like to deploy facilities even faster,” says Kim. “The cost to install varies depending upon the site, but we provide revenue-sharing to the host site and, at least so far, we have not asked any truck stop to contribute to the installation cost.”

IdleAire Technologies Corp., which provides AC electricity and filtered in-cab heating and air conditioning plus a variety of communications and entertainment options via a console that fits into a truck's side window, also has plans to accelerate deployment of their facilities. In January, the company announced the sale of $320 million of discount notes and warrants to fund the construction of approximately 13,200 more IdleAire parking sites in about 210 locations over 35 states, according to Mike Crabtree, IdleAire CEO.

“These funds provide the match required for using $42 million in public grant awards that have been set aside for IdleAire installations,” he notes. “Ontario, California and Laredo, Texas will be among the first new sites to be constructed.”

NEW SOURCES

In recent months, a number of new onboard system suppliers have also entered the marketplace. Flying J, Inc., for example, will be offering an idle reduction system starting this March. Called the Flying J Cab Comfort System (CCS), the unit was originally designed for the U. S. military's armored personnel carriers, where it has been in use for the past decade.

The CCS is manufactured by Ottawa-based Mechron Power Systems, a division of Toromont Industries, and features a custom Kubota diesel engine and a direct-drive generator. Although it is basically a free-standing rather than integrated system, it does draw fuel directly from the vehicle's main tanks. The standard cooling configuration also ties the unit into the truck's cooling system, although an optional separate cooling system is also available, according to Bruce Davis, market development director for Flying J's Transportation Enterprise Division. Customers can spec shore power and remote start options, too.

Installation and servicing of Flying J's new system will be handled through the company's network of fuel stops and travel plazas, as well as through select outside suppliers in their Preferred Driver Carrier Association program (PDCA).”We also plan to support the CCS with our financial and insurance groups,” adds Davis. “Qualifying customers can finance the CCS directly through Flying J as an aftermarket purchase or as part of a new truck purchase program. They can also insure the system through Flying J.”

Pennsylvania-based eCycle, Inc., a manufacturer of brushless motors and high-efficiency generators, also recently introduced a new IR solution for the trucking industry. “Our approach is to offer a bare-bones system that most people can afford,” explains Michael Sharer, the company's vp marketing. “It basically consists of a motor/generator and a six-horsepower diesel engine, which can be used to provide power directly to the cab or to charge and monitor a dedicated bank of batteries.

“We are very committed to enabling idle reduction for everyone,” Sharer adds. “That's why we've chosen this a la carte approach. We are really helping people to build their own APU according to their specific needs. Like buying a computer, you can select a very basic system or add lots of bells and whistles. If you want to add heating and cooling to our basic system for instance, we can help you do that.”

Black Rock Systems, LLC along with partner Yanmar America Corp. unveiled its self-contained IR system last year at the Mid-America Trucking Show. The frame-mounted unit is designed to deliver 26,000 BTU/hr of cooling/ heating. A two- or three-cylinder diesel engine is available to provide the power to operate the air conditioning compressor and generator. “The Black Rock APU isn't a one-size-fits-all system,” notes Steve Rovarino, vp sales and marketing for Black Rock. “Each unit can be customized.”

NEW SOLUTIONS

Both veteran suppliers and newcomers to the marketplace are also introducing new and specialized solutions to the idle reduction problem. For example, Webasto Product North America, well-known as a supplier of fuel-fired heaters for engine, cab and cargo space heating, recently introduced a no-idle bunk cooling system that can be purchased with its Air Top heaters as a package (the C5 or Complete Cabin Climate Comfort Control system) or separately. The cooling unit, called BlueCool Truck, derives its cooling capability from a 17,000 BTU cold storage cell that is charged while the truck is being driven. When the truck engine is switched off and the BlueCool Truck unit turned on, four fans deliver cool air to the cab.

“Electricity from the batteries circulates the super-chilled coolant and powers the fans, so the unit burns no fuel at all,” explains Reid Landis, marketing specialist for Webasto. “It will run for approximately nine hours and keep the cab below seventy degrees Fahrenheit, even if the ambient temperature is ninety-plus.”

For the day cab market, Illinois-based Autotherm, a division of Enthal Systems, Inc., is offering a heating solution designed to keep the cab warm for up to four-plus hours on a typical winter day by enabling the truck's heater to function normally with the engine off. “Our T-2500 Energy Recovery System (ERS) uses a pump to continue to circulate the heated coolant after the engine is shut off,” explains Don Boyer, senior vp for Autotherm. “When the driver shuts the truck's engine off, he or she just leaves the heater and fan on. Built-in temperature and voltage sensors shut the pump down when the coolant temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit or when the battery reaches just above 50 percent charge.

“The deluxe model is about $500 and takes two or three hours to install,” he adds. “There is no maintenance required after installation. While the ERS does not provide cooling, it can be used as a cab ventilation system in the summer.”

A cooling-only solution intended for fleets operating in hot dry regions is available from California-based Safer Corporation. Safer's Viesa product is an evaporative cooling system that uses water as its coolant. “Our unit is as good as an air conditioner in places like Arizona where the humidity is under sixty percent,” says company president, Brian Moylan. “It has only two moving parts, a pump and a fan. The 32-liter water tank is mounted outside at the back of the cab and the evaporator unit with fan, filter and controls is mounted through the roof of the cab.”

The Visea Intelligent Plus model includes automatic low-battery and low-water shut off, an eight-speed fan, alarm clock, reading lamps and remote control device, plus the ability to select from seven languages for the control display. For customers who also want heating, Moylan recommends adding a separate bunk heater.

MIX AND MATCH

Today, combining units from more than one supplier to create a complete or customized solution is becoming more common. It is also not unusual to find components from one manufacturer integrated into packages marketed by another company.

At Dometic Environmental Corporation, for example, partnerships are the name of the game. “We are an HVAC manufacturer, so we don't provide auxiliary power units by ourselves,” explains Lou Siegel, sr. vp marketing and strategic business development for Dometic. “Instead, we have a number of relationships with other companies that integrate our HVAC systems into their idle reduction solutions, including Mechron Power Systems, Centramatic, Idle Busters and Idle Solutions.”

Inverter/charger supplier Xantrex Technology, Inc. and Phillips and Temro Industries, a supplier of engine block heaters and Cab Power wiring systems, also recently announced a partnership. “We are supplying our units to Phillips and Temro, which will function as the marketing arm for our shore power-enabling package,” explains Brian Lawrence, OEM account manager at Xantrex.

ENTER THE TRUCK OEMS

According to many industry watchers, the final step in the integration and customization of idle reduction systems will occur when all truck makers offer IR systems as factory-installed options. Engine idle shutdown has been generally available for some time, but several truck makers are now entering the IR marketplace with onboard no-idle HVAC systems and shore power options as well.

Last summer, for example, Freightliner Trucks, a division of Freightliner LLC, announced that it was offering the Idle Solutions package being supplied by Dometic Environmental Corp. and Temco Metal Products Co. The systems, available on selected Freightliner models, are installed at Freightliner's In-Service Centers. Freightliner also offers a shore power option featuring the Xantrex inverter/charger as does Volvo Trucks North America.

In November 2005, International Truck and Engine Corp. announced plans for a factory-installed idle reduction system beginning this spring. According to the company, the new International No Idle System will include a fuel-fired coolant/cab heater and a self-contained, electric air conditioning unit that may be powered by a choice of batteries, an auxiliary power unit or 110-volt shore power.

Mack Trucks, Inc. is also planning to introduce the availability of inverter/chargers and shore power connectivity in the second quarter of 2006, according to the company. Later in the year, Mack notes that it is also on track to introduce factory-installed sleeper heaters as an option for all Pinnacle and Vision model sleepers.

“I really believe that, in my lifetime, idling will be a thing of the past,” observes Terry Levinson, sr. project manager at the Center for Transportation Research, Energy Systems Division of Argonne National Laboratory. “Engine idling is becoming unacceptable for a number of reasons. It will eventually be replaced with better solutions for driver comfort and convenience.

“Remember when cars did not have air conditioning? Today, that is unthinkable,” Levinson continues. “In the future, it will be just as unthinkable to operate a truck that has to idle to maintain a comfortable cab temperature and power onboard appliances and tools.”

For more information, go to Directory of idle reduction solutions.

View more Fleet Owner news relating to idle reduction, fuel conservation, fuel economy and diesel fuel prices.

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