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Long-awaited NAS report adds value to truck technology discussion

There is a certain sense of satisfaction when a project you have been working on for an extended period of time is completed. That is how I feel about the publication of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s (NAS) report, “Reducing the Fuel Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, Part Two.”

I, along with 17 other expert citizens, worked on the project for four years. It was a real honor to serve and I would absolutely do it again. The NAS was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress which was then signed by President Abraham Lincoln. NAS is a nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology.

I remember challenging some presenters under a 15 ft. portrait of Lincoln in one of the Washington DC NAS meeting rooms. I felt like I was delivering on what he expected expert citizens to do, while government did its work. It is solid a solid report, a bit aged, as we froze the content in mid-2017. 

While it is a long report — think Harry Potter book length (the later ones in this series) — I think all chapters would be valuable to people who are working in the freight efficiency space, depending on your area of focus. The table of contents will be a good guide for finding just what you are interested in. For example, there are chapters on powertrain technologies, technologies for reducing the power demands of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, projected benefits of technologies on fuel consumption, hybrid and electric powertrains, manufacturing considerations, costs and benefits and more.

Much of the report focuses on hybrid powertrains and less on battery electric options. That is in part because the Release of this report was delayed by complications with a contract modification, and NAS ultimately funded the report’s completion. Although the report relies on work conducted through Dec. 31, 2017, and some of the technologies discussed have advanced more rapidly than anticipated, the study committee’s recommendations remain relevant today.

We recognize that battery electric vehicles are one of those areas that has advanced more rapidly, but that does not make the report any less helpful.

One thing of note, the committee asked for an interim review of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations. There are so many things going on with technology that can reduce GHG emissions — everything from hybrid and electric power to automation and routing and even vehicle length and weight considerations — that it seemed prudent to review the GHG regulations especially in light of the fact that they extend through 2030. There is so much going on that it does not make sense to allow things to stand as written today without some kind of review that factors in the impacts of these new technologies.

One last point I want to make is that the committee recommended that work be done on measuring emissions not only on a brand new truck, but also in the real world over the life of the truck.

It’s an exciting time to be in trucking, and while I might be biased since I was on the committee, I think there are some great takeaways from the new NAS report. I encourage all of you to read at least part of it. Personally I find it as engrossing as a Harry Potter book, and if you do too, you might find yourself reading the whole thing —so I won’t give away the ending.

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