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Hot new ideas – HVAC systems that keep you warm and efficient

TORONTO, Ont. - Today's Class 8 trucks offer drivers a host of comfort not found in trucks of just 15 or 20 years ago including heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems designed to keep drive...

TORONTO, Ont. – Today’s Class 8 trucks offer drivers a host of comfort not found in trucks of just 15 or 20 years ago including heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems designed to keep drivers comfortable whether driving or taking a break in the sleeper compartment.

While truck OEMs continue to make improvements in HVAC systems, in recent years they have begun to focus on technologies that keep drivers warm or cool while also reducing truck idling.

Truckers have been accomplishing this for years by buying diesel-fired heaters and auxiliary power units or inverter/chargers. Truck OEMs are also looking at inverter/chargers as equipment options on new trucks as well as exploring future technologies to power truck accessories and creature comforts.

Auxiliary power units and fuel-fired heaters for engine pre-heating or cab heating have been offered for a number of years by companies such as Espar, Onan, Pony Pack, Aux Generators, Webasto and many others. Many of these products can be ordered as factory options.

These units can keep batteries charged and the sleeper and engine warm; and do so very economically. The small diesel engines in these units typically burn 80 per cent to 90 per cent less fuel than a truck’s engine. Auxiliary power units also supply electrical power, 12-volt AC and/or 110-volt DC, while the engine is off, for operating coffee makers, TVs, microwaves and the other creature comforts driver like to have on the road.

Truck OEMs have been displaying these technologies at trade shows and other venues in recent years.

High demand

For instance, Volvo Trucks North America recently displayed a new technology truck featuring currently available idle reduction technologies such as charger/inverters for shore power and an electric heat and air conditioning system that does not require the truck’s engine to be on to operate. According to Volvo engineer Curtis Jacobson, the company has installed more than 5,000 inverter/chargers in the last few years.

“There’s definitely a demand out there for ways to reduce idling,” he says. “These systems give people a good, practical alternative to idling. Our goal is to heat and cool the sleeper cab without idling the engine.”

Using an inverter/charger and plugging your truck into an AC power outlet while parked overnight to run the heater can save money. According to industry experts, you are saving anywhere from .75 to one gallon of diesel fuel that would have burned each hour while idling.

Tim Lee, a research specialist with New York State utility Niagara Mohawk, says his company estimates the cost of idling in fuel and extra maintenance can be as high as US$4,000 per tractor per year.

A number of fleets are now ordering inverter/charger systems on their new truck purchases and many Class 8 OEMs offer inverter/chargers as optional equipment. Plus, OEMs offer models that are shore-power ready.

But the likelihood of you being able to pull into your favorite truck stop and plugging into a handy electrical supply anytime soon remains slim.

The infrastructure just isn’t there yet and truck stops are waiting for more demand from their fleet customers before making the huge investment needed to jump into truck stop electrification.

Taking the process a step further into the future, Freightliner recently displayed a Century Class S/T with a fuel cell auxiliary power unit for idle reduction.

The fuel cell, manufactured by XCELLSIS, powers all convenience items while the truck is parked including the cab heater, air conditioner, television, stereo, refrigerator, microwave and coffee pot.

The system was developed with XCELLSIS and includes two Ballard fuel cell stacks as the APU. Hydrogen is pumped into the fuel cell from a tank mounted on the frame under the cab.

When air is added, the hydrogen molecules become excited, splitting into a proton and an electron.

A proton exchange membrane within the fuel cell allows the protons to pass through but not the electrons, building up a voltage within the cell.

The system on the Freightliner demonstration truck delivers 1.4 kilowatts of 120 volts AC or 12 volts DC power through an 1,800-watt inverter.

A number of issues must be addressed before fuel cell powered-APUs are offered as new truck accessories, primarily fuel availability and system costs. Fueling infrastructure remains “the real big question,” according to Michael J. Procter, systems engineer for XCELLSIS.

While electrified truck stops may be a few years down the road and fuel cell auxiliary power units farther still, truckers can still take advantage of existing products to cut idling and enjoy many of the comforts of home while on the road. The key, according to industry experts, is to spec’ an inverter/charger or auxiliary power unit that is designed for trucking and then let the factory or dealer do the installation.

Payback time varies

Another factor to consider is that payback may not be immediate. Quality inverter/chargers can cost as much as US$3,000 and auxiliary power units will cost even more.

But for many fleets and drivers, the benefits far outweigh the initial costs and some believe payback can be achieved in as little as two years.

The bottom line: it makes good business sense to save money while staying warm.

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