SAN DIEGO, Calif. — “At the end of the day, you can’t go broke going green.” That observation came from Michael Britt, director of maintenance and engineering for UPS, when addressing fuel efficiency at the American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition this weekend.
UPS would know. It runs three million miles a week using alternative fuel vehicles and by the end of 2017 will have accumulated a billion miles with such vehicles. The package delivery company operates 96,028 vehicles worldwide delivering 16.3 million packages a day and currently 3% of its US small package fleet is powered by alternative fuels as well as 7.5% of its international fleet, which includes Canada. These fuels range from compressed and liquefied natural gas to propane to electricity.
“UPS has no bias as to alternative fuels and advanced technologies,” Britt explained. “We don’t have one fuel we think is going to be our future fuel. We understand that as large and diverse as we are, there are many different vocations we operate in. There are different fuels and different technologies for different parts of the world and we understand that.”
One of the advantages of using alternative fuels, said Britt, is that “When we’re talking about alternative fuels, we’re always talking about a domestic fuel. Here, natural gas is our domestic fuel.”
In the US, UPS operates 930 CNG and 684 LNG trucks. In Canada, it has also enjoyed success with propane-fuelled vehicles. In Europe, the push is on to electrify the fleet; some European cities even charge daily tolls to non-electrified delivery vehicles.
By 2015, UPS plans to have brought the alternative fuelled segment of its US fleet to 7.5%. Today, it operates a variety of alt-fuel vehicles, including Kenworth T800 extended day cab single-axle tractors and LNG-fuelled Mack Pinnacles. Both are equipped with the Cummins ISX12 G engine.
UPS’s fuel-efficiency efforts extend to the trailer as well. In Europe, it operates high-volume trailers to maximize payload.
“The greenest mile is a mile never driven,” Britt pointed out. This same logic has led UPS to pull double and triple trailer combinations wherever possible.
“It’s a lot less harmful to the environment pulling doubles or triples with one tractor than using three tractors to do the same thing,” he said.
In North America, UPS is using both CNG and LNG with success. LNG is preferred in regions where there’s a liquefaction plant nearby. In Jacksonville, Fla., UPS has built a $7-million LNG fuelling station that stores 108,000 diesel gallon equivalents (DGEs) of LNG. LNG must be trucked in, so if there is not a liquefaction plant within 250 miles, UPS prefers to use CNG, because trucking in the fuel is no longer economically viable. CNG can be delivered by pipeline.
The LNG trucks are saving UPS about a dollar per gallon compared to diesel, even after accounting for a 10% loss in fuel economy.
The company is working with governments to make using alternative fuels less punitive than it is today in some jurisdictions. As an example, Britt pointed out carriers are effectively taxed twice on natural gas, because they are paying the tax on two gallons of natural gas to get the same energy output provided by one gallon of diesel. Governments need to be made aware of these discrepancies, Britt said, which has led UPS to spend a lot of money on lobbying efforts.
Trucking companies that are new to alternative fuels must incorporate some driver training into their rollout plans, Britt advised. Early natural gas trucks deployed by UPS initially got just 3-4 mpg because drivers were operating them like diesels.
“We started learning about the torque curves and frankly, we put a lot of automated manuals in – they know when to shift for fuel economy and safety,” said Britt. “When you talk about technology, that’s really the cat’s meow when you get a natural gas vehicle with an automated manual transmission in it.”
Besides alternative fuels, UPS is also looking for ways to improve fuel economy through improved tire selection and maintenance. Britt said the company is experimenting with several tire pressure monitoring and tire inflation systems.
“If your tires are not properly inflated and don’t have the proper tread on it, your fuel economy is going to nosedive,” he reasoned.
He also expressed his disillusionment with the EPA SmartWay program when it comes to low rolling resistance (LRR) tires. Britt said carriers are getting a shorter life out of SmartWay-verified tires and fewer retreads out of the casing, prompting him to question whether the environment is any better off with the SmartWay-led push to fuel-efficient tires.
“It takes 23 gallons of petroleum to make the average tire,” he pointed out. “It’s a very environmentally-intense activity.”
Britt said he has found LRR tires last about 40% as long as conventional tires and have about 20% the casing life. Also, some drivers complain they provide less traction in slippery conditions.
“They lighten up the casing to get better fuel economy,” Britt said. “Low rolling resistance tires are more expensive and we buy more of them, so I think the tire manufacturers would think that’s a great deal. That’s a big debate. Myself and several other engineers talk about the different performance and we’re going to hold the EPA and DoT and Department of Energy accountable to make the right decision there. From the data we’ve collected so far collectively – not just UPS – we are not in the camp of saying that’s the right way to go with the current technology tires out there.”
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies