The truth about hybrids

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. –This Sept. 7, Transports Quebec revealed in a little show-and-tell at FPInnovation’s Montreal facility that it is sponsoring two year-long studies of hybrid trucks. The first will compare the fuel consumption of a hybrid delivery truck with its diesel equivalent. The second will look for the most effective driver techniques, to be able to take full advantage of this new technology.

The trucks in the studies have been rolling since early August.

The first study is designed to ferret out return on investment numbers for operating a Kenworth Class 7 T370 hybrid truck compared to Kenworth’s Class 7 T370 diesel version. The Societe des alcools du Quebec (SAQ), Quebec’s state-run liquor store empire, has one T370 hybrid, which it bought this year. The two trucks will deliver products to Montreal-area restaurants.

“With the SAQ we will compare two trucks to see what the difference is between a hybrid and diesel truck. We have put the trucks on similar routes and are monitoring their speed and fuel consumption for one year,” explains Yves Provencher, manager, business development, FPInnovations. Anthony Proust, from FPInnovations’ PIT program, is in charge of the studies.

After basic training on the vehicles, the drivers were let loose. The goal, Provencher explains, is straightforward: “We want to see if it is justified using hybrid technology for trucking. Most fleets want to know what the value of hybrid technology is. Is it worth paying a $40,000 premium for a hybrid truck? Will I recoup that in the lifetime of the vehicle? This is why we are working with SAQ, to see if buying more is justified.”

PIT, the subsidiary of FPInnovations that organizes and runs the Energotest energy efficiency trials, tested the SAQ T370 in its Energotest 2010 (urban) trials this July. PIT compared SAQ’s electric battery/ diesel hybrid with a pure diesel truck.

“This test will get more precise fuel consumption figures so the ROI can be more accurately calculated,” explained Bertrand Fontaine, safety manager, SAQ at the July trials. He notes, “In our operations the savings in fuel do not pay for the technology, now.”

When those results are released, sometime next year, it will be, incidentally, interesting to compare the closed track findings with the results of this 12-month “real life” study.

The second study is designed to collect a year’s worth of data on how 12 different drivers for the Quebec dairy giant Agropur use a T370 hybrid as they deliver milk in the Montreal area. Each driver will get the truck for a month.

Provencher explains: “For Agropur, we gave the drivers basic training and told them to use the trucks the best way they can. Each driver will use the truck five days a week for a month. We will compare their techniques in various driving conditions to see which ones give the best performance.

“For example, which driver has the battery charged the most? How do they leave traffic lights? How do they drive up a hill? Approaching a stop, we will see which individual uses the engine brake and keeps the battery charged the most. If you use the same driving technique as you do with a diesel, you will not get much benefit. You want to maximize the use of the battery and the way you recharge the battery. If you brake with the service brake instead of the engine brake, you will not recharge the batteries. If you can maximize the use of the engine brake before using the service brake, you will recharge the battery more. We will analyze their techniques and assemble composite of the best techniques to form a training manual.”

For the Agropur study, FPInnovation is tracking the truck with GPS overlaid on a map, collecting vehicle performance data and transmitting it wirelessly back to FPInnovations.

Almost everything about these studies draws on Quebec expertise: FPInnovations has vast experience in this sort of data collection and analysis, mainly from its studies in the forestry sector. The T370s are assembled in Kenworth’s Sainte-Therese plant north of Montreal. Laval-based Transit Fourgon built the truck boxes. The SAQ truck is equipped with a computer sold by Sherbrooke-based CDWare. Chambly-based Isaac Instruments, which specializes in the tools used to study vehicles in use, built the on-board computer that FPInnovations installed in the Agropur truck.

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