The Future of Trucking Drives Closer

Starship 1

By Brian Normile

The trucking industry, like the automotive industry, is keeping one eye on fuel-efficiency improvements even as regulations governing such things may be loosening. It's one of the rare instances where capitalism and environmentalism are in agreement as efficiency is good for the environment and the bottom line. Here's the latest on what the big-rig industry is up to.

Aerodynamic All-Star

Starship 2

Shell Lubricants and the AirFlow Truck Co. teamed up for the Starship Initiative, an attempt to drastically improve trucking efficiency. The Starship truck combined significantly improved aerodynamics with other improvements to produce a more efficient semitruck. The result? Shell Lubricants reports that after a 2,300-mile trip, the Starship truck returned a 248 percent improvement in freight-ton efficiency over the industry average. The industry average is 72 ton-miles per gallon while the Starship produced 178.4.

Can all of this be put into mainstream production? Over time, perhaps. But the Starship has a custom carbon fiber cab that likely would prove too cost prohibitive. A custom boat tail trailer with full-length side skirts presents its own difficulties as well; not every industry or shipping company can switch to trailers like that.

More reasonable improvements include the Cummins X15 Efficiency series engine, low-viscosity lubricants, low-rolling-resistance tires and improved driving strategies. The mild-hybrid drivetrain with axle motors and temperature-activated grille shutters aren't likely to be near-term improvements but seem like possibilities in the mid- to long-term.

Diesel power isn't the only option according to some, however.

It's Electric

Tesla semi

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a big splash last November when he revealed the Tesla Semi, an all-electric semitruck prototype. Since then, we haven't heard much about it. According to Business Insider, at the company's most recent shareholder's meeting Musk announced that the production version would be slightly different and have "range and functionality" improvements. No specifics were given; the prototype shown in November had a claimed 400 miles of range, and functionality is such a broad term that it could mean anything. Will its capacity increase? Maybe the driver no longer sits in the center and is thus capable of paying tolls or interacting with entry/exit gate personnel?

ECascadia

Daimler, meanwhile, announced its own electric big rig and says it is sending 30 prototypes of the Freightliner eCascadia and its smaller medium-duty sibling, the Freightliner eM2 106, to customers for field testing, according to Autoblog. Daimler says the semi will have a range of 250 miles and a gross combined weight capacity of 80,000 pounds; the medium-duty electric truck will have a range of 230 miles. Daimler expects both trucks to enter full production in 2021.

The Big Picture

All-electric semitrucks aren't the sole answer to fuel-efficiency and environmental issues without a massive change in infrastructure or a change in charging methods. It's simply not feasible to use electric vehicles for long-haul trucking right now. They'll work much better for shorter, local routes, but then the issue becomes cost and maintenance. If an electric truck is significantly more expensive to buy or maintain, it won't catch on with fleets or owner/operators.

Improving aerodynamics and fuel efficiency will have a more significant impact across the industry than switching powertrains entirely. Taking the largest step in the right direction will involve combining both types of improvements, but any smaller step is an improvement.

Manufacturer images

Comments

What's with the accusations? I don't need to resort to this, I've used this name for a long time, I don't hide using other names.

I always use my name, and I'm always frank with my comments.

You guys are insecure, I don't waste my time on this site.

Later

not the REAL Frank


@Bobby M

GM failed 10 years ago. Smell the coffee.

Today GM is a giant in the global auto scene. Top managers.

Ford's management suite is like a revolving door. Don't forget that Ford took a huge subsidized loan before the recession.

Try reading for comprehension.

Posted by: papajim | Jun 11, 2018 3:14:12 PM

That is correct papajim. Ford also supported the bailouts along with GM and Chrysler in the beginning and signed up for a multi-billion dollar line of credit from the Feds if the business went sour during the recession.

In the end, they ended up not using those funds. Not long after, they ran television ads trashing their fellow automakers for accepting and using government funds. Apparently, Ford forgot that they signed up for a line of credit and supported this program in the beginning. Anyone who didn't follow the industry and know any better would believe it. I think the TV ads were pulled not long after due to this reason.

The Starship is certainly better than the traditional diesel truck, but we've seen many prototypes of this design style over the years and they just haven't caught on. Sure, it's about a 20% improvement in fuel mileage and notably better on ton-miles compared to the others but it still suffers almost all of the drawbacks of a traditional diesel, including relatively slow acceleration (which eats fuel economy) and loading on grades (which again eats at fuel economy). The battery pack idea for dynamic braking is a big help but in the StarShip it still seems only marginally better than going without while a true BEV or an HFC (hydrogen fuel cell) with a bigger battery would achieve notably better performance and effectively double current diesel economy if not quadrupling it in battery-electric form.

Note that while the article touts the "freight ton-mile" figures, it does not mention the raw fuel economy which comes in at about 8.6mpg or roughly 20% better than the typical 6.8 of current trucks. Aerodynamics is a huge help for these trucks OTR but acceleration and grade handling still demand more power that a diesel engine alone can provide economically.

The GM fanboys have been triggered, humiliated and embarrassed.

@vulpine

Check out what Saddle Creek Logistics, a big trucking company, is doing. They invested in a few trucks that run on natural gas.

Their range is a bit limited but it's perfect for the intra-state trucking operations that make up the majority of the heavy deliveries in the US.

@ Chris

When? I think you have it backwards, but I guess you are Frank's boyfriend so you're usually backwards anyway LOL!

@PapaJim: "Check out what Saddle Creek Logistics, a big trucking company, is doing. They invested in a few trucks that run on natural gas.
Their range is a bit limited but it's perfect for the intra-state trucking operations that make up the majority of the heavy deliveries in the US."

I'm aware of multiple such operations that use CNG in their route trucks. And yes, they are saving money, though the fuel mileage per tank is down about 20% (the advantage is cheaper fuel, not better performance.) A BEV offers stronger acceleration due to massive low-end torque from zero (0) rpm and offers something like 4x the MPGe over diesel at the same time. Add to this that electricity currently runs at about a 75% savings over diesel and the cost advantage is significant, though I acknowledge we have no idea how well the motors will hold up under the typical load.

Sure, railroads get hundreds of thousands of miles off their electric drives (it's why their locomotives are called 'diesel-electric') but they also use VERY big motors on every axle for those road engines. Tesla's trucks are reported to be using a much smaller motor but with one motor at each drive wheel vs one motor per axle. The other brands? I don't know, but I'll bet on one larger motor per axle for simplicity.

Add to this that electricity currently runs at about a 75% savings over diesel...

@vulpine

Generating capacity is a huge expense for utility companies and presently American electric utilities are capacity-constrained. Much of America's capacity today is coming from sources like nuclear and coal.

Natural gas however is abundant and (for those who care) has a near zero impact on air pollution, unless you're still hung up on carbon footprints, etc.

"Generating capacity is a huge expense for utility companies and presently American electric utilities are capacity-constrained. Much of America's capacity today is coming from sources like nuclear and coal."

--- If that were true, PapaJim, then electricity would be far more expensive than it is. In reality, the cost of electricity is relatively cheap AND coal only makes up about 28% of generation in the US at this time. Believe it or not, Natural Gas makes up another 30%. The remaining 42% is made up of roughly 25% nuclear, 12%-18% hydro and the remaining through geothermal and other renewable sources, including wind and solar.

The interesting thing is that wind, solar, geothermal and hydro require no fuel to operate, making them the LEAST expensive means of generation while wind and solar are the fastest growing sources of electricity on a global basis.

Natural gas is not a panacea; it is not a complete solution in and of itself. It, too, is a fossil fuel, which means it is a limited resource which can, eventually, run out. And burning any fuel adds to the pollution in our air and the greenhouse gases which are fueling our climate change. (Of course, geological action has some effect to, but we can't do anything about those.)

My point is that there is no one solution; there is no one thing we can do to reverse the damage we have already done. It's going to take many things, INCLUDING the adoption of CNG or even non-compressed Natural Gas, to have any measurable effect. But by itself, Natural Gas can only slow the changes, not reverse them.

@ Sean

Chris and Frank are actually my neighbors. Let me tell you....they are the NEIGHBORS FROM HELL. All they do is talk up Ford products like they are the best since sliced bride.
Truth be told....their front yard is like a junkyard filled full of Ford trucks that don't run. The truck hoods all up, and the trucks are on jack stands or on cinder blocks. The rest of the neighbors can't stand them including me!! Both Chris and Frank also have some very strange fetishes but I am going to leave that part out since this is a public forum.

Sorry for the typo above bride = bread


Thanks for proving my point, Sean, BA or whoever you are.

Sorry for the typo above bride = bread


Posted by: Chris and Frank's Neighbor | Jun 12, 2018 12:50:50 PM

Oh good, I thought that may have been one of their fetishes.

"All they do is talk up Ford products like they are the best since sliced bride."

I don't know about "sliced bride" but if you ask me, sliced CHEESE is both older and better than sliced •bread•.

@ Chris
Still waiting for your point..? Your comment was for Chris and Frank's neighbor? For you not to comment at them only says that you are the same Chris everybody is referring too. Where did Frank go? Everybody likes picking on him

@ Chris and Frank's neighbor
Thanks for confirming what everybody already assumed!! Lol


don't know about "sliced bride" but if you ask me, sliced CHEESE is both older and better than sliced •bread•.


Posted by: Vulpine | Jun 12, 2018 1:33:20 PM

FYI, Frank is partial to whipped cream, not cheese. You may ask how I know that. Lets just say that I was sitting on my porch and they don't close their blinds or curtains in their house. Needless to say...I had to get up and go in the house. Could not stand looking at it any longer!!

Generating capacity is a huge expense for utility companies and presently American electric utilities are capacity-constrained.

@vulpine

the above quote from my earlier comment is true always and everywhere. Only YOU could argue with something as simple AND true as that statement.

The real cost of creating "production capacity" for utility companies (and manufacturers) is a vast expense that is either derived from their small profit margins, or from the expense involved in raising money via Wall Street and the big banks.

the alternative means of electric generation (wind, solar, and the rest of the Green koolaide) also have high costs, regardless of your opinion about "fuel" cost

"the above quote from my earlier comment is true always and everywhere. Only YOU could argue with something as simple AND true as that statement."
--- Except that the statement is NOT true when taken over the lifetime of the equipment involved. Again, if it were, our electric rates would be far, far higher. And when there is no fuel cost involved, costs go down, not up.

Vulpine, This stuff is Economics 101. Go look it up. Learn something.

This discussion is done because you want to work with alternative facts. You are not welcome to make up your own facts.

@ Chris and Frank's neighbor

Lol! They're gonna be mad at you

"Vulpine, This stuff is Economics 101. Go look it up. Learn something."

--- No, PapaJim, it is not "economics 101." When old coal-fired plants are being flat shut down or modified to run natural gas turbines rather than steam generators, then clearly the economics of power generation have shifted. Any more , the costs of exhaust scrubbing in those old coal-fired plants have become prohibitively expensive so cheaper methods have and are being implemented... up to and including eliminating coal usage entirely.

@ Vulpine

Shutting down coal plants is definitely a reality as there are at least two plants here in Colorado scheduled to be shut down in the next few years...

Cheap natural gas is the reason that many coal plants are being decommissioned or upgraded to gas generation. Either way, coal is still reality in many parts of the country.

In California the utility firms like PG&E are sticking with coal because they've already made the green upgrades, and their customers HATE nuclear power.

Result? They will be running coal fired plants for a long time.

Meaning? Trucks that use plug-in recharging technology will be in effect burning coal. This is easy to verify on-line if you aren't totally stuck to your outdated politics. Ahem!

Coal will probably be used for a long time to come but it is definitely on the decline. The use of coal for the generation of electricity has dropped substantially in the last few years, over 20% in one year alone. Not only is it because of cheaper natural gas but the environmentalists have really aimed at eliminating coal for air pollution reasons. The two plants I mentioned here in Colorado are shutting down completely because of air pollution and we have some of the cleanest air in the country. Not a good sign for others in the future

regarding coal as a fuel.

John I think the Greens are much more influential in your region than they are in most others.

As is also the case with my home state, Florida, the economics of environmentalism relate to tourism.

The tourism lobby is very powerful here, where 64 of Florida's 67 counties rank somewhere between conservative and VERY conservative. This matters because Floridians vote to maintain the image of a "natural" state, one that has nice seashores and lots of water sports like boating and fishing.

Otherwise Florida rejects silly green politics, thank God.

PS: don't forget that making steel without coal is not practical and our nation is on track to restoring its steel industry in a big way.


@ Chris and Frank's neighbor

Lol! They're gonna be mad at you

Posted by: Sean | Jun 12, 2018 2:22:23 PM

@ Sean

No worries....they are already mad at me anyway for calling the cops on them last week. They need to learn that its not acceptable to streak through the front yard and down the sidewalk in broad daylight!!!

"Cheap natural gas is the reason that many coal plants are being decommissioned or upgraded to gas generation. Either way, coal is still reality in many parts of the country.
In California the utility firms like PG&E are sticking with coal because they've already made the green upgrades, and their customers HATE nuclear power.
Result? They will be running coal fired plants for a long time.
Meaning? Trucks that use plug-in recharging technology will be in effect burning coal. This is easy to verify on-line if you aren't totally stuck to your outdated politics. Ahem!"
---- Posted by: papajim

Again false, jim. California is weaning itself off of coal as it can and promoting the use of solar and wind power at ever opportunity. Yes, California does have to purchase power from out of state sources and yes, SOME of them are coal-fired, but the number of coal-fired plants is shrinking and the coal fields in both east and west US are slowly dying.

And by no means are all those old coal plants being converted to NG. The oldest ones; the ones needing the biggest repairs, are simply being shut down and razed. Some of THOSE have had their total square footage--or rather acreage--covered in solar panels, even in parts of the country where it is claimed solar is useless during the winter months (which are also months in which electric demand is lowest for those areas.)

And to the best of my knowledge there are no new nuclear plants being built that haven't already been under construction for years, so the argument about, "and their customers HATE nuclear power" is specious at best.

So no, coal use is being phased out at a surprisingly rapid clip. Where once coal alone made up roughly 60% of American generation, it's now down to 28% and falling. Meanwhile, solar and wind make up roughly 80% of all NEW generation capacity.

You cited no sources.

Please provide a verifiable source for your statement about 80 percent of new US capacity coming from green sources.

Also give your source for the 28% coal...

@vulpine

Go make some coffee and have a cup or two.

A new reactor under construction in Idaho will become operational by the mid-2020s.

The project took a crucial step forward when the company behind it, NuScale, recently secured an important security certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Others will be generating power by 2020 in China, Argentina and Russia, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.



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