Smart moves

by Eric Berard

OTTAWA, Ont. — An expert assessment can efficiently guide a fleet towards reduced fuel use by analyzing what it already does right and how it can improve in other areas, and the government is willing to pay for up to half the cost. Natural Resources Canada has launched a program that incentivizes fleets to tap into these expertise.

Through its Green Freight Assessment Program (GFAP), NRCan will contribute 50% of a fleet’s expenses to get assessed, up to a maximum of $10,000. Once a fuel economy improvement strategy is identified, Ottawa also offers financial help to implement the related solutions. Once again, the government will pick up as much as 50% of the tab. “The goal of the program is to provide each recipient with up to $150,000 in contributions from NRCan towards the implementation of fuel reduction activities,” the agency says.

A scientific approach is critical, as neither NRCan nor fleets want to invest in questionable magic bullet-type solutions. Tangible results are expected and the federal ministry has developed an assessment tool in partnership with industry experts to obtain them.

E3 Fleet is a program of Richmond Sustainability Initiatives based in Toronto, Ont. It worked on the software tools used to calculate fuel economy solutions’ return on investment (ROI) for fleets, says Roger Smith, president and managing director of the non-profit organization. Over the years, the man who spent his entire career in fleet management, says his team helped 200 fleets in Canada reduce their emissions and their fuel consumption, along with their operating costs.

“Fleet managers know that fuel efficiency, cost efficiency, and emissions reduction are inter-connected issues. Reducing fuel use also reduces fleet emissions while at the same time, increasing profitability. This is what we help fleets and fleet managers accomplish,” he says.

“Our job was to develop this (software) tool that would be in support of the Green Freight Assessment Program as a broader program,” Smith adds. That meant developing the software and the protocol to help fleets of all sizes make sound business decisions.

The resulting Green Freight Assessment Software Tool (GFAST) focuses on aerodynamics, rolling resistance, efficient combustion/fuel switching, and a number of best management practices ranging from eco-driver training to route optimization, modal shift, and more.

Industry feedback
Before it was officially launched, the assessment tool was beta-tested with a large (650 vehicles) Ontario-based trucking fleet already known for its leading-edge fuel-saving initiatives, and the feedback it provided to E3 Fleet led them to make the tool even more user-friendly.

“It became a simple process of exporting data from their corporate fleet system into a CSV file, and that CSV file goes directly into the GFAST tool. It’s seamless and it’s very easy,” Smith says. Better yet, the partnership contributed to the fleet further tweaking its strategies to save even more fuel.

PIT Group was then asked to validate and fine-tune the assessment tool, explains Simon Trudel, fleet management specialist with the non-profit organization that’s known continent-wide for its expertise in fuel-saving technology evaluation and testing.

Trudel, too, thinks any fleet can benefit from an assessment program such as NRCan’s GFAP. Most of them have already picked what he refers to “low-hanging fruit,” or the most obvious means to optimize fuel economy, such as idle reduction or basic aerodynamic solutions like trailer skirts.

“There’s not much left they can access without climbing up the ladder,” he says.

According to Trudel, NRCan’s GFAP program could well be that ladder, with a little help from savvy fleet assessors such as PIT, E3 Fleet and other assessing organizations that NRCan has identified Canada-wide.

When asked what should be a fleet’s first step into an assessment program, Trudel spontaneously pinpoints the will to make changes. “If we come up with technology recommendations that seem too much of a leap for a given fleet, chances are it will not attempt to implement them,” he says.

Realistic recommendations
Recommendations must be realistic. For instance, aerodynamic devices won’t likely be recommended for a fleet that operates mostly in urban settings as these devices provide better air penetration and fuel economy at higher speeds. “We need to understand a fleet’s reality to make proposals that make sense in that reality,” Trudel says.

Another motivation for fleets to go through the data gathering and fleet assessment process is the fact that, once collected and compiled, the information can be further used, for provincial programs aimed at similar carbon reduction targets such as Écocamionnage in Quebec, for instance.

Trudel also advocates the use of experience-based hard facts. “We have access to a tremendous amount of knowledge to determine what type of technology is the best suited to obtain a given percentage of added fuel economy,” he says.

When the 50% government-funded assessment process is over and solutions have been identified, the implementation phase can begin and it, too, can be financed up to 50% by NRCan.

The recommended solutions could be aerodynamic devices such as tractor fairings, trailer side skirts, wheel covers, aero mud flaps, or anything that can contribute to reducing friction like low rolling resistance tires, wide-base tires, tire pressure monitoring systems, etc. The use of long combination vehicles that require only one tractor to pull two 53-footers, auxiliary power units, or alternative fuels could also be part of the mix.

Automated transmissions that prevent engine overrev or predictive cruise control systems that can generate fuel economies as high as 2% to 3% could also be included in new truck spec’ing recommendations. The latter systems can “see” the road a couple of kilometers ahead and adjust the truck’s speed, along with the automated transmission’s correct gear, and synchronize all systems according to the upcoming topography.

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