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Idling Alternatives

A few years ago, you could not have found enough fleet owners who saw a future for onboard idle reduction systems to fill a small conference room. What was the point? Diesel was cheap, rates were regulated, and climate change meant vacationing in a sunny spot. It is enough to make you wonder what kept the early developers of idle reduction systems pressing on, but the trucking industry is in their

A few years ago, you could not have found enough fleet owners who saw a future for onboard idle reduction systems to fill a small conference room. What was the point? Diesel was cheap, rates were regulated, and climate change meant vacationing in a sunny spot.

It is enough to make you wonder what kept the early developers of idle reduction systems pressing on, but the trucking industry is in their debt for staying the course. Many fleets would not have survived the 2008 run-up in diesel prices without their systems to help reduce fuel consumption, not to mention reducing emissions in the process. And idle reduction systems just keep getting better.

New technologies are one of the engines that are propelling idle reduction systems forward. Espar Heater Systems, for instance, joined forces in 2010 with Energy Xtreme, a maker of capacitor power packs, to provide zero-emissions power that is neither diesel-driven nor battery-based. “Where we see capacitors as being the best fit is in the municipal market, where vehicles need an additional power supply to operate things like cranes, bucket trucks and dump trucks — anything that runs off a PTO,” says John Dennehy, vice president of marketing and communications for Espar.

In January, Bergstrom Inc., maker of the battery-based Nite system, announced a new strategic partnership of its own with a super-capacitor supplier, KBi/Kold-Ban International. “This is a natural fit for us as well as KBi,” says Bill Gordon, vice president of sales aftermarket and Nite for Bergstrom. “Super capacitors can allow for the reduction in the number of starting batteries and, therefore, result in significant weight reductions. They can also help ensure that drivers won't deplete batteries below where the truck will start. Super-capacitors can take a battery that is almost completely discharged and use the remaining voltage to spin the engine fast enough to start it.”

According to Gordon, Bergstrom is also in a partnership with a lithium-ion battery supplier and is exploring using lithium-ion batteries with super-capacitors. “We are looking not only at today's and tomorrow's technologies, but also five to ten years down the road,” he notes. “We are looking at fuel cells, for instance, and other emerging technologies. If you stand still in today's market, you will be passed by. You have to keep an eye on the future to stay viable.”


Idle reduction system suppliers have also been working hard with truck makers and post-build facilities to bring new trucks to market already equipped with idle reduction systems. Carrier Transicold, for example, has had a long-time relationship with Fontaine Modification, says Dean Lande, manager of business development for Carrier Transicold, maker of the diesel-driven ComfortPro APU (auxiliary power unit).

Lou Siegel, director of Dometic Truck Group North America, says Volvo is installing Dometic's battery-based system (offered as an option) right on the assembly line. Dometic is also working with another major OEM on day-cab installations, Siegel notes. These will be done at a post-build facility.

Espar's heaters are likewise a factory-installed option, according to Dennehy, being installed in “certain Freightliner, International, Kenworth, Peterbilt and Volvo trucks.”

Bergstrom's systems are also factory- installed by Freightliner and International, says Gordon. Other idle reduction systems are also available directly through truck OEMs, whose dealers can help fleets with selecting the right idle reduction package.


In addition to new technologies and new partnerships, regulations will also continue to drive product development and market penetration for idle reduction system suppliers. “CSA is going to exacerbate the driver shortage,” observes Lande. “Fleets have to hold on to the good drivers they have. We believe that APUs will be a big retention tool because of the comfort and convenience features they can provide to drivers.”

“The driver shortage is becoming a big issue again [as freight levels grow] and CSA washes people out of the driver pool,” says Doug Lenz, director of transport product management for Thermo King. Fleets need and want to have the best drivers for safety, performance and compliance reasons, so they are taking a hard look at quality of life issues, Lenz notes. Idle reduction systems certainly play a role in creating job satisfaction and loyalty among drivers.

“Generally speaking, it is very hard to say where regulations will go, Lenz adds. “As recently as two months ago, there was a bill in Congress to offer federal tax credits for APUs, but it did not pass. In the end, it really still comes down to cost and reliability.”

Dennehy agrees, but he sees idle reduction systems becoming standard in the near future. “Time will tell what government regulations we see in 2012 to 2014,” he says, “but in the same time period, we expect anti-idling systems to become standard equipment on new vehicles.”


Exactly what those systems will look like is still a matter for debate. Many suppliers see a rise in the demand for battery-based systems, while others believe the market for fuel-driven APUs and generators will grow because of their ability to provide generally greater power than battery-based units. “Interest in battery-powered systems is growing,” says Carrier Transicold's Lande. “But diesel-powered APUs still serve the most fleets and have the widest potential use.”

“At one time, the trend was clearly toward battery-based systems,” says Dwayne Cowan, APU product manager for Thermo King. “Now, however, hotel loads are growing and the hours-of-service rules may also change to require longer rest periods. That is increasing the demand for diesel-driven systems.

“If batteries keep improving, it may swing the other way again,” he adds, “and battery development for plug-in vehicles will help to move battery development forward.”

For fleets, the important thing today is that regardless of which idle reduction solution best meets their needs, there has never been a better lineup of systems from which to choose. A standing ovation for the idle reduction system developers who are making it happen is probably in order about now.

Getting the most from battery-based systems

Battery-powered idle reduction systems give fleets that want zero-emissions idling a solution that meets their needs, and a growing number of companies are deploying them with good success. Achieving that success, however, requires a little more care during spec'ing and managing the operation of the system.

“Heavy-duty DC electric air conditioning units are ideal for truck owners who need true no-idle air conditioning,” notes Robert Gardiner, marketing manager at Red Dot Corp., in a Red Dot white paper. The company offers the Sleeping Well system from Italian manufacturer Indel B. “But they are vastly different from conventional … aftermarket a/c units.”

“Battery-based systems are like a jar of marbles. As you keep taking marbles or power out of the system to do things [like operate various hotel loads], you diminish the amount left in the jar,” notes Bill Gordon, vice president of sales aftermarket and Nite sales for Bergstrom Inc. “Eventually, you have to fill it back up again.”

Lou Siegel, director of Dometic Truck Group North America, agrees. “There are whole numbers of different things that need to be considered with battery-based systems,” he notes. If you are considering battery-based systems for your own operation, here are some important things to keep in mind to make sure you get optimum performance and driver satisfaction from the battery-based system you select:

  • Assess the operating environment. Do you need engine-off heating as well as cooling? Does the system have to cool and/or heat a cab and large sleeper for at least ten hours or just make a day cab comfortable for short periods? How extreme are the typical ambient temperatures where the unit will operate? “Air conditioning output is measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr.),” explains Siegel. “This defines the ability of the system to transfer a certain measure of heat in one hour from one space to another. Btu/hr. is the only appropriate measure of cooling capacity.”

  • Consider the duty cycle. “A 100% duty cycle means the system runs constantly and never cycles off,” says Siegel. “A 60% duty cycle would mean the system only runs 60% of the time and is off 40% of the time. This would naturally extend the amount of time you can operate the HVAC system on battery power.”

    “The key is that the customer and the dealer really understand the application and the duty cycle for which a unit is intended,” notes Dwayne Cowan, APU product manager for Thermo King. “Education about the system is critical; users have to understand the limitations of the system they select. [It is important] to take into consideration what the full demand will be on the system, including hotel loads, so that users can estimate the cooling and run-time duration. You also have to be sure you can meet hours-of-service requirements.”

  • Take into account the truck's insulation. “The insulation R value for an average truck is less than 4%,” says Gordon. “By comparison, a good household roof has an R value of about 35. There are truck insulation options [that can help to improve the efficiency of your idle reduction system.]”

  • Look for efficiency. “With a battery-powered [system], think about how efficient it can be with the current it draws,” says Gardiner. “Power consumption is the difference between a system that's effective for 10 to 12 hours and one that's not, or one that's simple versus one that needs more complicated or extra components.”

  • Pay special attention to the type and number of batteries. “The amount of time you can run your air conditioner on battery power between recharges depends primarily on the number of batteries used,” says Siegel. “For a typical 60- to 70-in. high-rise sleeper, we normally specify a total of seven to eight absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries, giving a minimum run time of 10 hours to meet current federal hours-of-service requirements. AGM batteries can also be deeply discharged and rapidly recharged without damaging the batteries.”

  • Train drivers to use the system effectively. “Battery-powered a/c systems are designed to maintain the temperature inside the vehicle for up to 10 hours,” says Gardiner. “They don't have the capacity to remove a substantial amount of heat. A driver who plans ahead and uses the truck's main a/c system to cool the interior before he shuts down can help the electric a/c system be more effective for a longer period of time.”

  • Check the system periodically. Like all other onboard components and systems, battery-powered idle reduction systems should be checked periodically to make sure everything is in top working order. “You should check the voltage drop periodically to ensure the electrical system is ‘tight,’” says Siegel. “The voltage drop measured between the charging point (alternator or battery charger) and the battery that is the farthest from the charging point should be no more than 0.2V DC. Any more [than that] and improper charging will occur and run time will be shortened.

    “[You should also] check the condensate drain to make sure water is draining properly. If the drain plugs are clogged, clean them,” he adds. “Periodically inspect for chafe on outside wires and refrigerant lines. Inspect and clean debris from the condenser unit.

    “Inspect batteries frequently. Check for tight electrical connections and also check for corrosion at battery terminals,” Siegel notes. “Inspect and clean the air filter regularly to ensure good airflow across the evaporator coils. Do not block the airflow path between the return-air grille and evaporator coils with pillows, blankets or other objects.”

  • Have a shore power option. Make sure the battery-based system you select gives your drivers the option of taking advantage of a/c power when they find it.

  • Check out emerging technologies. Battery technology and other alternative energy storage systems are constantly evolving and their costs generally drop as production volumes increase. Keep an eye on new power options to run no-idle systems, including lithium-ion batteries, super capacitors and even fuel cells.

  • Expect service support. Whether a battery-based system or a fuel-fired system best meets the needs of your operation, look for a supplier that can provide you with ready parts and service support where you need it.

A shore thing

Shore power, the providing of plug-in a/c power to run truck heating and air conditioning systems and hotel loads like televisions and computers, has been slow to get into the mainstream. Early efforts such as those by pioneering Idle-Aire were visionary but expensive to install and maintain and they took up a lot of scarce truck parking lot real estate, as well.

New suppliers have had the opportunity to build from those beginnings, and build they have. For example, Cascade Sierra Solutions (CSS), a nonprofit organization, was awarded a $22.2 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) to study the viability and acceptance of truck stop electrification. CSS elected to partner with Shorepower Technologies to install 1,200 a/c power “pedestals” across 50 truck stops.

Dubbed the Shorepower Truck Electrification Project (STEP), the program launch was delayed last year to allow for a government agency audit, according to Sandor Lau, development director for CSS. The agency is ready to go now, however, Lau notes, and hopes to identify and build out all 50 of the trucks tops funded by the program over the next 18 months. A general contractor has been hired to manage the project.

About half of the $22.2 million awarded for the project is being offered directly to trucking companies in the form of rebates for the installation of equipment that will enable them to use the new a/c pedestals, says Lau. “Electricity has always been a chicken-and-egg thing,” he notes. “Truck OEMs are waiting for a/c power to be available at truck stops before installing the onboard equipment to enable truckers to use it. Truck stops are waiting for users.”

Over 5,000 vehicles will be awarded rebates for approximately 20% of the installed equipment cost (up to a maximum amount by equipment category). According to Lau, to qualify, upgrades must enable the vehicle operator to get electricity for cooling and/or heating the truck cab from the nation's electrical grid. Companies that receive the rebates have to commit to actually using the shorepower infrastructure,” he adds, “and rebates must be preauthorized by CSS.”

Auxiliary power units (APUs), battery-based HVAC systems with shorepower options, evaporative coolers and thermal storage systems are all eligible for the rebate. Transport refrigeration units (TRUs) on refrigerated trailers and truck cold plate systems are also eligible when they include electric standby options.

In Canada meanwhile, shorepower is going underground, at least at some locations. A relatively new supplier, Longhaul Truck Stop Electrification (L-TSE), has just begun installing underground electrical systems that drivers access through a dock or “pod” at just above pavement level. The first installation of the system is at the 730 Truck Stop in Cardinal, Ontario, Canada, on the border between Quebec and Ontario.

The truck stop is offering two services: a basic engine warm-up service or the block heater warm-up plus shorepower for the cab and sleeper berth and Internet access. The cost is just $1 (Canadian) per hour for the basic service and $2 for the package which includes cab/sleeper a/c and Internet access.

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