Nature abhors a vacuum and so, it seems, does the trucking industry. Since the first trials of a dozen fuel-saving technologies, dubbed Energotest 2007, at Transport Canada's Blainville, Que. test tra...
Nature abhors a vacuum and so, it seems, does the trucking industry. Since the first trials of a dozen fuel-saving technologies, dubbed Energotest 2007, at Transport Canada’s Blainville, Que. test track two years ago, Canadian and even American fleets are coming to trust Energotest trials as a reliable and unique -in Canada anyway -source of road-test data on these technologies.
Robert Transport and Cascades Transport spearheaded the first trials and FPInnovations-Feric in Montreal provided the scientific expertise to run them. Word quickly spread and Feric created Project Innovation Transport (PIT), a sort of subsidiary company fleets could join, allowing them to meet suppliers and organize trials of fuel-saving technologies and techniques of interest to them.
Kingston, Ont.-based SLH Transport joined PIT in February 2008 and quickly became one of its biggest supporters. It contributed tractors, drivers and trailers to Energotest 2008 and has otherwise contributed equipment whenever needed and referred many suppliers to PIT.
SLH has a corporate purchasing policy requiring all products aimed at reducing fuel consumption to be PIT tested. Brent Fowler, vice-president of administration for SLH, has high praise for PIT. “I almost liken it to the CSA standards. We work closely with Feric and trust what it is doing. There are so many products out there and we … [cannot] properly evaluate them. Suppliers of these products should be getting the message that they should go to PIT first for endorsement.”
At the time of writing, PIT had 14 fleets, including its first in the US: Grand Island Express in Grand Island, Neb. Fleet president Tom Pirne heard about PIT and Energotest this April, contacted Feric and immediately joined PIT. “The problem I have is that so many factors affect fuel mileage. It is really difficult to do real-world tests. How do you know? Feric is an organization that has scientific test methods and uses a test track to take out all the variables that they can,” Pirne explains.
His doubt about the wisdom of a fleet running its own trials is echoed by Alan Klassen, director of fleet assets and maintenance for Yanke Group of Companies, which joined PIT in December. “Say we put on one of these things that change molecules … so you tell the operator we are doing this test and they report that they always work. The operator becomes more conscious of what he is doing and he changes his behaviour. The result is not the result of the gadget. We have seen that time and again. You could invest a lot of money in these types of things and have no return on investment. In a controlled environment, you take the operator out [of the equation].”
This is a refreshing revelation, as designing and running good controlled experiments is no less tricky than running a profitable fleet. “In the past, we have attempted to complete testing on different products, but it is really difficult to take results to the table,” Klassen admits. “We do not specialize in testing. We are transportation providers.”
Some fleets, including Yanke, decided to send inquiring vendors directly to Feric for testing before entertaining their sales pitches. “We get calls every day from people who have these products and devices that will make us a tonne of money … everyone and their dog has come up with a product,” Klassen says. “Now we can have [Feric] do this and make the right decisions. We tell [vendors] there are a lot of companies involved in PIT. If they have a product that works, they can be sure that [PIT members] will buy it.”
The best Energotest 2007 performers were Michelin’s wide-base tires, which reduced fuel consumption by 9.7%, and aerodynamic trailer skirts, made by Seattle-based Freight Wing and Oakville, Ont.-based Laydon Composites. These manufacturers’ panels, which fit length-wise under trailers, reduced fuel consumption by 7.2% and 6.8%, respectively. Other technologies reduced fuel consumption from 5.1% to just 1.1%.
Energotest 2008 demonstrated again that trailer skirts are currently the best aerodynamic products for improving fuel economy: Freight Wing reduced fuel burn by 7.5% and Quebec-based Transtex Composites’ trailer skirts reduced fuel burn by 7.4%. Unfortunately, other products fared poorly. Some fuel-line and exhaust-system add-ons managed only -1.3% to 1.9% fuel savings.
Over-the-road fleets are busy installing trailer skirts; e.g., Grand Island got its toes wet installing two trailer skirts and has applied for grants for skirts on its other 300 trailers. Yanke has installed some trailer skirts. Last year, Bison began progressively installing Freight Wing trailer skirts on 850 trailers under a 50/50 cost sharing agreement with Transport Canada’s ecoFREIGHT program. In Quebec, trailers pulled by Robert and other fleets are showing up wearing skirts.
There is more to the Energotest trials than just zooming around the seven-kilometre oval track at 100 km/h, the speed at which most of the technologies to date have been tested. Fleets and Feric have a hit list of “in-house” trials, several of which they ran in 2008. They discovered, for example, that a rig travelling 15 metres behind another rig at 100 km/h burned 8% less fuel, with no penalty for the lead rig. Lifting three lift axles on an unloaded B-train improved fuel economy by 4.7%. A “moose” bumper inflicted a 2% fuel penalty. Fleet managers tasked with explaining to drivers why maximum speeds are dropping will appreciate learning that driving at 95 km/h versus 98 km/h saved 2.0% in fuel. Driving 92 km/h versus 98 km/h saved 5.1% in fuel.
Feric also discovered that pulling a shipping container, versus a closed van and curtain trailer, inflicted a whopping 14.3% fuel penalty. “We knew that containers took more fuel to pull, but nobody would have guessed they would cause [such a] fuel increase,” Klassen says. Feric then used this data to create a calculator that fleets can use to determine how long a trip needs to be before it becomes more economical to transfer the load from container to trailer and haul that.
Feric expertise has been valuable in making these technologies work better. For example, its researchers improved on manufacturers’ instructions for positioning trailer skirts, raising their performance from 0% to 7%, according to Yves Provencher, business development manager for FPInnovations. Feric also advises PIT fleets on which of the tested technologies are appropriate to their operations.
This year’s trials were attracting so much interest that Feric split Energotest 2009 into two sessions: one ran from May 5-16, with a second set for September. Feric tested 14 technologies in May, including trailer skirts, a wheel balancing system, a diesel booster, a new concept in flatbed trailers and a magnetic device that fits around the combustion chamber. Feric also tested transit buses. The test results have been released to PIT members but will not be released to non-PIT people until 2010.
This fall will see the first stop-and-go trials, designed to simulate in-city operations. “There are some technologies that only work on stop and go driving,” says Bernard Ouellet, a researcher with FPInnovations-Feric. “It is going to be fun.” Feric is working with the SAE test protocol to develop a pick-up and delivery procedure that will match SAE requirements; the constant-speed 100 km/h trials conform with the SAE J1321 Joint TMC/SAE Fuel Consumption Test Procedure -Type II, Recommended Practice.
Energotest has not escaped the notice of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which is reportedly envious of Canadian fleets’ ability to discuss fuel savings technologies and strategies without running afoul of anti-trust laws. ATA’s Technology Maintenance Council invited Provencher to speak at its annual general meeting this February. “After the meeting they said ‘wow!’ We are discussing their interest in having us do tests on the impact of truck alignment on fuel consumption, among other projects,” Provencher reports.
The US Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart-Way program also got wind of Energotest. “They refer to our results, they send some suppliers to us. We meet the criteria for their acceptance of our tests. The hope is that Feric and SmartWay will work more closely in the future,” Provencher says.
PIT’s member fleets already represent 3,200 trucks and Provencher predicts that that new members will push that to 4,000 by year’s end. One thing is certain: Feric and PIT have created a fascinating, effective and respected testing machine. Even though it receives support from several provincial and federal government agencies, it is independent of the political caprice and budgetary fashions that plague some government testing agencies.
“Membership is fairly affordable, especially in light of fuel costs,” Pirne says.