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Cleaner Trucking
Jamais Cascio, 24 May 04

There are 1.3 million long-haul trucks, diesel-powered rigs with sleeper cabs, on the American roads right now. By law, long-haul truckers are only allowed to drive for10 hours before needing an 8 hour rest period. During the down time, few truckers stay in motels -- they're too expensive, and leaves the cargo at risk of theft. Instead, they usually stay in their cabs, with the engine idling to power their various appliances (TVs, etc.) and their air conditioning/heaters.

Extended idling is a problem, though. Communities hate the noise. It shortens the life of engines. It eats fuel (and at current fuel prices, that's a serious problem). And it puts out a lot of pollution:

A single, standard heavy-duty diesel truck with a 425 horsepower, operated the standard 306 days a year, idling during legally required rest breaks and stopping for other reasons for 30 minutes per day produces 55,833 lbs. of emissions annually-solely from idling. These emissions include: 54,240 lbs. of carbon dioxide, 1,047 lbs. of nitrogen oxides, 396 lbs. of carbon monoxide, 110 lbs. of volatile organic compounds and 40 lbs. of particulate matter.

A company called IdleAire has an interesting solution. They provide an umbilical with plug-in power, Internet, phone, and TV services at truck stops, letting truckers use their various appliances, get online, stay warm/cool, etc., without having to idle their engines. It saves fuel -- about 1.0 - 1.1 gallons of diesel an hour per truck -- and eliminates engine noise and pollution. The power comes from the grid, so it's not pollution-free, but IdleAire estimates that there's an average net emissions reduction of 83%.

(For those of us who pay close attention to how environmental issues are portrayed in modern society, the IdleAire website is a fascinating case study of the mix of serious ecological awareness (they have the numbers down about the impact of diesel emissions on local communities) and trucker culture.)

Although truckers were ambivalent when the service was introduced in 2002 (see here, scroll down a bit), the rise of anti-idling ordinances in many cities (to cut noise and pollution) and the rising price of fuel have changed some minds. IdleAire is now in 14 locations, with another 16 under construction. They're also building out wireless hotspots for truckers (and other travelers) who want wireless when they stop for fuel & food on the road.

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Comments

just reminded me of a wired article awhile back, the trucker & the professor :D

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/sheffi_pr.html

oh and the 20-ton packet, cheers!

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.10/ports_pr.html


Posted by: reflexorset on 24 May 04

It's a good idea, but not very practical right now. It's not everywhere and unless large companies are going to foot the bill, company drivers have no incentive to pay for this. The price is about the same as idling all night, so the normal owner operator may not see the immediate benefit from spending the money.

This 'solution' would have to be at shippers and docks and rest areas and all truck stops to really fix the problem.

There are other real solutions like APU's (portable generators on trucks) and those will only catch on if tax breaks are given to those that invest.

This is just another company trying to take a buck out of the already empty pockets of truckers.


Posted by: wayne on 26 May 04

Wayne, you're absolutely right it's not everywhere, so it won't make as big of a difference as it might. I hope that it -- or similar competitors -- spread quickly. As for driver incentives, increasing fuel prices will make this system that much more attractive. Adding the other benefits of the hookup -- phone & internet, not having the engine idling vibrations all night, and not having unhappy communities passing anti-trucker laws -- it might just tip the balance.


Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 26 May 04

Seems like nibbling at the edges in terms of "world changing". One level better would be a look at efforts to shift to more efficient means of transporting stuff around. Two levels better would be a look at how people are using less stuff in general (http://www.word-works.com/simple.htm), and more local than far-away stuff (see http://www.foodroutes.org/buylocal.jsp for local food in the U.S., if you find other good resources on buying locally, please post them).

On a systemic level, measuring our wealth with numbers that only go up with the usage of more resources is a serious obstacle. Googling for quality of life indicators yields some alternatives already in use - http://www.google.com/search?q=Quality+of+Life+Indicators


Posted by: John Abbe on 27 May 04



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