With Money on the Table, What's the Best Move for Green Trucking?

Rocky Mountain Institute

With Money on the Table, What's the Best Move for Green Trucking?

Last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy is taking aim at the long-overlooked trucking industry, awarding $115 million toward "super truck" efficiency projects.

The majority of the financing is directed toward improving Class 8 fuel efficiency, and grants were awarded to companies such as Cummins Inc., Navistar, and Daimler Trucks North America to develop technologies to halve fuel use in heavy trucks, shrink the size of the engine, and develop a cleaner diesel engine.

Heavy trucks have enormous potential for greater efficiency and fossil fuel reduction. An infusion of cash into the industry can pay off big, helping reduce dependence on foreign oil and stimulating the economy.

But has this investment been made wisely? Trucking experts at Rocky Mountain Institute say key factors will determine whether or not we get a bang for the bucks.

{related_content} The Challenge of Bringing Innovation to Market

Hiroko Kawai and Mike Simpson of RMI's Mobility and Vehicle Efficiency practice point out that while innovation is valuable, the focus needs to be expanded to application.

"Innovations have to be encouraged and supported," Kawai said. "But, funding must reduce the cost of innovation and implementation. We need to challenge companies to not stop at a demonstration project, but produce marketable technologies that are directly applicable to the industry."

Simpson said there is opportunity now to move past the incremental. "Plenty of technologies exist today to double trucking efficiency," he said. "The true challenge lies in overcoming the barriers -- industry risk-aversion, low profit margins -- that are keeping these technologies from penetrating the market."

In October, RMI and trucking industry leaders launched the North American Council for Freight Efficiency to look holistically at the opportunities to double trucking efficiency by changing operations and employing technologies that are available now.

The NACFE aims to drive the adoption of efficient technologies by working with industry stakeholders to establish and communicate credible and performance-based benefits.

Kawai said the NACFE can help ensure the DOE funding is put to good use by by providing understanding to both companies and consumers: categorizing the pipeline, evaluating performance and helping guide development.

"If you produce something the industry will not accept, you fall short of your end-goal," she asserted. "Ultimately, the greatest fossil-fuel reduction will come from a technology that the market demands, trusts and is incentivized to implement."

Greater Reward from Integrated Solutions

According to Chu, $100 million will be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and that the winning projects "will create over 500 jobs, primarily researchers, engineers and managers."

Kawai and Simpson point out that an integrated approach may yield benefits extending beyond the initial "tech" jobs.

"Technology providers will only hire so many people," Simpson said. "Integrated solutions however cause snowballing benefits."

If efficient technologies are brought to commercialization in a way that is affordable, he continued, the industry has a boost in overall profitability and increases their profit-margin. This stabilizes the entire freight transportation marketplace, which traditionally has been volatile. Predictability allows companies to invest in efficiency. Increased demand equals more jobs for not only innovators, but mechanics, installers and drivers.

"Ultimately, we will see the greatest payoff if we can get collaboration between all stakeholders," says Kawai. "We all need to get on the same page and work together now, while the money is on the table. It is the only way to achieve transformation."

Kelly Vaughn is an analyst with Rocky Mountain Institute's Communications Department where she focuses on communications strategy and initiative development. She has her MA in Communications from University of Dubuque and has extensive experience in social marketing and PR.

Images courtesy of RMI.