Walmart rolls out testing of radical carbon fiber truck

CEO Doug McMillan said in his blog that he never thought Walmart's sustainability journey would lead to trucks like this.

He's referring to WAVE — Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience — which is just beginning formal testing. The first truck to be built from carbon fiber, it is 20 percent more aerodynamic than current trucks, and its micro-turbine hybrid powertrain can run on a variety of fuels. In addition to Capstone's microturbine there's an electric motor and battery storage system

The carbon fiber body cuts 4000 pounds, and at 53-feet long, it's the first time sheets so large have been manufactured. The round front also contributes to aerodynamics and adds cargo space.

Walmart's goal is to double the fuel efficiency of its fleet by 2015, which the company says it is 80 percent on the way to meeting. Big trucks like this currently get about 6 miles per gallon.

Unfortunately, Walmart's emissions are still growing even with its sustainability programs. It's ranked No. 33 on the Greenhouse Gas 100 list, just below Chevron.

WAVE comes at a good time. President Obama recently announced the next wave of fuel economy standards are under development for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles — the most polluting vehicles on the road.

Standards in place for 2014 to 2018, which go into effect this year, are expected to cut annual oil consumption by 390,000 barrels per day by 2030 — about $50 billion in fuel costs. But the new round will have a much bigger impact because all vehicle components will be included.

In the case of tractor trailers, for example, current standards only apply to the truck that's pulling the trailer, not the trailer itself. Improving the trailer would increase fuel savings from 23 to 35 percent.

"According to the analysis in our Half the Oil plan, improving the fuel efficiency of all types of heavy-duty trucks could reduce oil consumption by 1 million barrels a day in 2035, more than the maximum capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline," said Michelle Robinson, director of Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Vehicles Program.

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