North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE)
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A framework for choosing powertrains in the 'messy middle'

March 8, 2023
Fleets must move quickly to decarbonize as regulations become more stringent. With so many powertrain options, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) has laid out what to consider when making your decision.

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE)  has been talking about the messy middle since 2019. We defined it as the period of time between now and when the trucking industry reaches zero-emission freight movement. We thought that enough had changed since we first began talking about the messy middle that a thought leadership paper would help bring clarity to the issue. Our goal was to make it easier for fleets to sort through the powertrains that are available today and in the future.

The biggest takeaway from the research for the paper is that fleets need to act—now. In fact, we titled this paper,  The Messy Middle: A Time For Action.

Some fleets are feeling overwhelmed with the options currently available to them—advanced diesel, renewable fuels, natural gas, hydrogen, hybrids, battery-electric power, and hydrogen fuel cells. There is no need to be overwhelmed since there is no one right choice of powertrain for every fleet or every duty cycle in a fleet.

See also: NACFE: 'Waiting is no longer an option' for realistic emissions reductions in trucking

Maybe that's part of the problem. Choosing from a variety of options is much easier when one clear choice emerges, but that is not going to be the case during the messy middle. It is very likely that some fleets will have trucks with a variety of powertrain options. For example, their terminal tractors may be electric, while their long-haul trucks will continue to operate on diesel. They may have CNG trucks for some applications and hybrids for others. I cannot say which of the options is correct for each fleet.

See also: Fueling future fleets is just another problem trucking can solve

However, I am confident the white paper will help fleets navigate the process of deciding which powertrains are right for them. It starts with having a disciplined approach, employing some guiding principles, and considering a variety of factors such as well-to-wheel impacts, regulations, duty cycles, energy and fuel prices, and customer goals.

NACFE developed a best practice for decision making—a framework if you will—that includes many considerations with the primary ones being suitability for the duty cycle, financial implications, sustainability of energy used to power the trucks, and powertrain availability. It offers a sequence for evaluating the various solutions.

While this framework is an oversimplification of the process, it is a great place to begin the journey to zero-emissions goods movement. Remember, it is likely to be a decades-long journey during which fleets will likely end up making multiple decisions on the best powertrain at a given time.

The goal is to find the best options for today and work on finding the best options for tomorrow.

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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