Fleetowner 1160 C 15 Engine

Good-bye idling, good buy

Aug. 1, 2001
The next revolution in trucking is already described in a single paragraph in a middle chapter of a dependably dry government document. See for yourself. In Chapter Four of the recommendations from the National Energy Policy Development Group to President George Bush it's there in black and white: “The NEPD Group recommends that the President direct the EPA and DOT to develop ways to reduce demand

The next revolution in trucking is already described in a single paragraph in a middle chapter of a dependably dry government document. See for yourself. In Chapter Four of the recommendations from the National Energy Policy Development Group to President George Bush it's there in black and white:

“The NEPD Group recommends that the President direct the EPA and DOT to develop ways to reduce demand for petroleum transportation fuels by working with the trucking industry to establish a program to reduce emissions and fuel consumption from long-haul trucks at truck stops by implementing alternatives to idling, such as electrification and auxiliary power units at truck stops along interstate highways. EPA and DOT will develop partnership agreements with trucking fleets, truck stops and manufacturers of idle-reducing technologies (e.g. portable auxiliary packs, electrification) to install and use low-idling technologies.”

For fleets, there is much to celebrate in that prescriptive paragraph. Consider phrases like “working with the trucking industry,” or “partnership agreements with truck fleets,” and give thanks.

“The writing is on the wall,” observes Rick Tempchin of the Edison Electric Institute. “It is like the perfect storm. All the critical elements are converging. Fuel prices are high; there is a pressing need to reduce emissions; and driver fatigue is an emerging concern. The trucking industry has the opportunity and the economic incentives to get ahead of the regulatory curve. Now is the time to work together to create a climate to encourage everyone to adopt something — some anti-idling alternative. There is plenty of room in the market for all the existing solutions and more. And that will be the case for a long time to come.

“The Bush Administration strongly favors technology solutions, and we have them in abundance here and now,” Tempchin adds. “This is not a case of governmental ‘technology-forcing.’ We're talking about some basic, smart applications of existing technologies to reduce truck engine idling.”

“It is definitely time to get started,” agrees Rex Greer, president of the Albuquerque-based auxiliary power system company, Pony Pack, and a pioneer in the anti-idling effort. “For years, there has been lots of talk about how truck idling wastes fuel and contributes to air pollution, but very little action. We may eventually have even better technologies available than we do now, but it just doesn't make sense to keep waiting and keep idling when good solutions exist right now that we aren't using.”


“Doesn't make sense” is putting it mildly. There are various estimates for the annual cost of idling a truck, but all of them are enough to make a fleet financial officer weak-kneed at the thought of all that lost profit. Argonne National Laboratory, for example, estimates that U.S. longhaul Class 7 and 8 trucks typically idle their engines for up to 1,800 hours per truck per year. Other estimates put the figure as high as 2,600 hours per year.

If that weren't enough, The Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) notes that, in addition to fuel costs, a truck idling for one hour also suffers wear equal to about seven miles on the road. That means if a truck idles eight hours per day for 325 days of the year, for instance, it runs the maintenance equivalent of 18,000 miles and burns about 2,340 gallons of diesel (at 1.3 gallons per hour) going absolutely nowhere, hauling absolutely nothing. You can use Argonne's formula on page S9 to calculate your own fleet's annual cost of idling.

There are, of course, other serious penalties for idling besides fuel and maintenance costs. Argonne estimates that a single truck idling 1,890 hours per year emits about 20 tons of carbon dioxide, 420 lb. of carbon monoxide and 250 lb. of nitrous oxides.

Weigh it as you will, research from most well-respected health organizations clearly documents that emissions from diesel engines can have a number of health effects, from an elevated risk of respiratory and cardiovascular illness to cancer. And for those who can still manage to dismiss the health concerns, there are the big picture issues of smog, ozone depletion and acid rain to confront.

Idling is definitely a dirty business. It is also a noisy one. “We are having an increasing problem finding appropriate new sites for truck stops because communities just don't want to put up with the noise from trucks idling all night, not to mention the pollution and the traffic,” says a truck stop executive.

The only good news about idling is that fleets can do so much for their bottom line and for the environment by giving up idling for extended periods. Whether you are interested in retrofitting existing trucks or spec'ing new vehicles with idle-reducing equipment, there have never been more good options from which to choose.


“We'd like to be able to find truck stops where we could shut down, plug in our trucks and power everything from HV/AC systems to microwave ovens, televisions and computers,” says Dan Flanagan, director of maintenance for M.S. Carriers. “Our idle time is around 40 percent and our 5,000 trucks run about 144 million total miles per year. If we could knock our idling time down by even 10 to 15 percent, we're still talking about huge savings.”

According to Flannigan, M.S. Carriers plans to start purchasing Freightliner Century Class trucks equipped with inverter/chargers and shore power connections and then run TV, telephone and electrical lines at their own terminals. “Just by eliminating idling at our own nine facilities, we can save a substantial amount of money.” he explains.

Thanks to a pilot program by the New York State Thruway Authority, fleets like M.S. Carriers will also be able to find access to AC power for trucks away from home base.

The New York State Thruway is launching a pilot program called Truck Stop Electrification (TSE), sharing financing of the $500,000 project with two other partnering state agencies — the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and Niagara-Mohawk Power Co. The project will provide electrical power hookups for trucks at selected Thruway Travel Plazas, beginning this month with two facilities: the Chittenango (milepost 266 Westbound) and the Dewitt (milepost 280 Eastbound) Travel Plazas, located along I-90 near the I-81 interchange in Syracuse, NY. If the pilot is successful, plans are to expand it to the Thruway's 25 other Travel Plazas.

Electricity, the AC variety, will be provided to about 34 individual tractor-trailer parking spaces at the two demonstration plazas. In a separate project, the Thruway is independently installing another 14 units.

All sites will offer IdleAire's new multi-service consoles, which are designed to fit into a side window of the truck and provide access to duct-delivered heat and air conditioning, 110-volt current, telephone, cable television and the Internet. “Our system is actually fairly simple,” says Tom Badgett, executive vp of IdleAire Technologies Corp., based in Knoxville, TN. “An external, thermostatically controlled, high-capacity heat and air-conditioning unit is installed at each parking space on an overhead truss.

“Operators using the IdleAire service carry an insert that slips into a side window. No additional equipment is required. The insert, which will cost about $10, allows all truck windows to accept the console,” he explains. “An LCD screen and keypad — also on the console — handle driver I.D., odometer readings and other account information, while providing thermostat control, messaging and more.”

According to Badgett, IdleAire is focusing on making the service a “win-win” opportunity for truck owners, drivers and even truck stops, and is currently in active negotiations with owners of 128,000 commercial parking spaces. “We do the construction and we bring in our own power,” he says. “All the truck stop has to contribute is the space, and in exchange for that, we share revenues from the service with them.”

The cost to use the new AC power spaces will be about $1.40 per hour, according to John Platt, executive director of the Thruway Authority.

“Our estimate is that an idling diesel engine typically burns about one gallon of fuel per hour. So at $1.65 per gallon for diesel, it is more economical to use the AC power hookup based on the cost of fuel alone,” he notes. “On an average business day, we have about 150,000 trucks that travel some portion of the Thruway. If fully utilized, these two sites alone could reduce diesel fuel usage by as much as 470,000 gallons per year. This program also delivers an added safety benefit by encouraging drivers to take a break, reducing the likelihood of drowsy driving accidents.”

Drivers of vehicles equipped with shore power electrical connections and inverter/chargers will be able to plug into the IdleAire units for AC power only if they choose, as well as being able to take advantage of other AC power sources available. Companies like California-based Phillips Industries (with inverter/charger supplier Dimensions Unlimited) and Xantrex Technology Inc., Burnaby, B.C., Canada, supply inverter/chargers and shore power electrical systems to the aftermarket and to truck manufacturers.

Brian Lawrence, market segment manager for Xantrex Technology, says every major truck manufacturer is or soon will be offering at least one model factory-equipped with shore power capability. “Some truck manufacturers are offering shore power and inverter/chargers as an option now, and we expect that all the OEMs will be onboard with AC power very soon,” he says. “In the near future, a fleet or owner-operator will be able to spec a new truck with a complete AC infrastructure package, and drivers will visit truck stops that offer power connections.”

AC-powered heaters and air conditioners would be included in such a package, and systems are already available. Indiana-based Cab Comfort, a division of The Dometic Corp., for instance, has been providing 115-volt heating and cooling systems to the trucking industry for more than five years. According to the company, their units run off any 115-volt power source, from generators to shore power.

“At Volvo we've been offering the model 770 with AC power capability as an option since 1998, and I know several other OEMs offer AC packages as well,” adds Keith Brandis, vp-product planning for Volvo Trucks North America. “There are not a lot of reasons left to idle truck engines anymore.”


AC power is only one of several alternatives to vehicle engine idling. Direct-fired heaters, for example, can be used to heat both the cab/sleeper and the engine or just one or the other. According to Argonne, they are many times more efficient than engine idling, typically running 20-plus hours on a single gallon of diesel. Direct-fired heaters have been available for decades from companies like Espar Heater Systems, based in Ontario, Canada, and Michigan-based Webasto Thermosystems, which is also working on a Thermo Cooler concept to provide both heating and cooling.

“Auxiliary heaters are on 90 percent of the sleeper trucks in Europe, and they are now catching on in North America,” Franz Neumeyer, vp-general manager for Webasto, says. “Electronic trip recorders and logs have helped fleets and owner-operators see the savings they can get with auxiliary heaters. In the past, when we explained the benefits our systems provided to potential customers, they believed it or they didn't. Now customers can see the results for themselves. They have hard data, evidence from their own vehicles. As a result, sales in North America have more than doubled.

“Engine idle shutdown systems have also been helpful,” he adds, “because they have forced drivers to learn to use the auxiliary heater system, and as soon as they use it, they love it and tell other drivers about it.”

“Educating drivers and just building general awareness are important elements,” agrees John Dennehy, vp-marketing for Espar. “With auxiliary heaters, for instance, drivers have to learn to shut off the engine and use the heater. And since it ties into the truck's batteries, they have to learn to manage their battery power.”


Auxiliary power units (APUs) are small, truck-mounted systems, typically including an internal combustion engine, compressor and alternator. Today, APUs are generally diesel-powered, although other sources of power, such as fuel cells, could be used for APUs in the future. The units are integrated into the truck's operating systems to provide temperature control, DC power, battery charging and engine fuel warming for cold weather starting. The addition of an inverter/charger allows APUs to work as a source of AC power, as well.

One of the chief benefits of APUs is their portability. Because the units are truck-mounted, they can be used virtually anywhere, including at loading docks. They may even be valuable as survival units in case of a truck breakdown in extreme weather conditions.

“APUs do everything the truck engine does except power the driveshaft,” explains Rex Greer of Pony Pack. “Our idea was to utilize everything on the truck that we possibly could when it was parked. We wanted to add as little additional equipment as possible.”

The Pony Pack APU, for example, includes a 105-amp alternator, a 2-cyl. Kubota engine and a Sanden compressor. “In a recent test done by the EPA, an older Pony Pack unit, which has been in operation since 1996, burned about 0.22 gallons of diesel per hour,” says Greer. “We tell customers to expect to use between a pint and a quart of diesel an hour, depending upon the load they are putting on the system.”

Generators, such as the units from Onan or TruckGen Inc., are really not the same as APUs, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Generators actually produce 110- to 220-volt electricity to run AC-powered devices, from air conditioners to microwaves.

“We began getting calls from truckers who wanted to purchase our marine generator sets,” says Gino Kennedy, president of TruckGen Inc., a spin-off business from Next Generation Power Engineering created to address the needs of the trucking industry. “Every other mobile industry you can think of puts generators onboard their equipment,” he continues. “It just made sense for trucking to do the same.”

Drivers using generators typically give them good marks. “My Series 60 Detroit Diesel engine has 398,000 miles on it, with a lifetime idle average of 14 percent,” notes owner-operator Grant E. Sheldon. “My Onan generator set has 6,144 hours on it. It charges the batteries and runs the heater/AC system. The generator uses one-third gallon of diesel per hour versus the one gallon an hour for my 500-hp. truck engine. I've saved $5,068 on fuel alone, and Detroit Diesel calculates that I'll add 100,000 miles to the life of my truck engine.”


The technology is available today to dramatically reduce engine idling. So why, with all the benefits to be gained and money to be saved, isn't every fleet in the country racing to implement one of these solutions as quickly as possible? That is a question the EPA, DOE, DOT and others would like to address.

“We want to conduct more extensive testing on idling trucks and we want to conduct a national survey to learn more about idling behaviors,” says Paul Bubbosh of the EPA. “Along with our Federal and industry partners, we also plan to conduct a series of workshops on idling beginning with a workshop in Flagstaff, AZ, on August 18 and followed by a meeting in Dallas on September 5-6. Workshops are also tentatively planned for El Paso, TX; Gary, IN, and Fresno, CA.

“We want to learn from the trucking industry and truck stop operators about the obstacles they face in adopting an alternative to truck engine idling,” Bubbosh says. “We want to address these concerns and find ways to get idle control technologies voluntarily implemented.”

Do you hear that “voluntary” word, again? These workshops are not just idle talk, and it is definitely the time to volunteer. You can take that to the bank.

About the Author

Wendy Leavitt

Wendy Leavitt joined Fleet Owner in 1998 after serving as editor-in-chief of Trucking Technology magazine for four years.

She began her career in the trucking industry at Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland, WA where she spent 16 years—the first five years as safety and compliance manager in the engineering department and more than a decade as the company’s manager of advertising and public relations. She has also worked as a book editor, guided authors through the self-publishing process and operated her own marketing and public relations business.

Wendy has a Masters Degree in English and Art History from Western Washington University, where, as a graduate student, she also taught writing.  

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