Green machines 05 January 2010

The requirement for vehicle fleets of all types to raise efficiency and save fuel is very real, but making that a reality may not as difficult as some fear, says John Challen

The transport network tells the story of an industry looking hard at cleaning up its act. Low emission zones (LEZs), discounted congestion charges and large quantities of money being spent by some operators to add hybrid and electric vehicles to their fleets are three examples of measures being taken by the industry to 'go green'. However, although the biggest savings in fuel and thus emissions are bound to come from the powertrain, technological advances in aspects such as journey planning systems, aerodynamics and even tyres are also proving beneficial.

One of the most recent research projects set up to look at the efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles comes courtesy of the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) – instigated by pressure on HGV fleet operators to reduce overall consumption of 13.5 billion gallons of liquid fuel and the consequent contribution to nationwide CO2 emissions (currently estimated at approaching 9%). Project leader Ricardo is working with Rolls-Royce and Caterpillar, carrying out a nine-month study into ways that the fleet can help achieve the target of an 80% cut in CO2 emissions by 2050.

David Clarke, head of ETI, agrees that many solutions previously sought for passenger cars and light-duty vehicles – such as electric and hybrid powertrains – simply will not work on heavy duty applications, primarily because of the clear cost and weight implications. "We would need an order of magnitude improvement in battery power density and cost," he comments.

However, rather than attempting to identify a single, or even a few "magic bullet" technologies for all HGVs' CO2 emissions, ETI is looking into packages of technologies appropriate to different vehicle types and applications. "We're building on work already done, such as the Department for Transport study on reduced carbon technologies for HGVs," explains Clarke.

He cites, for example, biofuels that capture CO2 in the growth phase, as one important way forward, but also fuel cells – specifically to handle auxiliary power for standby and stationery operation, in place of the diesel engine. "These are incremental improvement technologies that operators could fit to many vehicle types," he observes. "So our project is about identifying and putting together packages of appropriate technologies that can be adopted for the ranges of HGVs, buses and coaches, refuse trucks, construction vehicles etc."

One potential facilitator may turn out to be Oil Drum, which want to contribute to the 2050 target, through the use of a hydrogen generation system onboard the vehicle. There are high hopes for a fuel-cell-powered industry, but lack of infrastructure, as well as the public's fears about fuel safety, have hindered progress. Despite this, Oil Drum has developed its generator technology and reckons it can achieve fuel savings of 10%, as well as a reduction in CO2 and NOx emissions of 20% and 10% respectively.

Its equipment is triggered when an electrolyte is fed into the hydrogen generator. That is then converted into hydrogen and oxygen, through electrolysis, with the output hose sending dried gas to the vehicle air intake, before hydrogen is fed into the combustion chamber. The procedure causes a chain reaction, that combusts all of the available fuel, producing what's said to be a more complete burn, and so increasing overall engine efficiency.

Powered by the vehicle's own battery, the generator can produce up to five litres of hydrogen per minute. Oil Drum sales director Phil Deery says safety fears are alleviated because the fuel produced is not pressurised and is only generated when the engine is running. He also says that only limited quqantities of hydrogen are stored while in operation; any residual hydrogen dissipates within 30 seconds of the unit stopping.

Deery confirms that several small to medium size haulage fleets are already using the technology, as well as "one of the three biggest supermarket chains in the UK". The latter operator, he says, has now installed the hydrogen generator on more than 1,000 trucks, and he is looking for other chains to follow suit.

Incidentally, the retrofit service offered to fleets installs the system in just four hours, while the header tank holds sufficient electrolyte for several weeks' operation. Deery also says that, as long as a flushing process is completed when refilling the electrolyte (roughly every six weeks), service intervals can be extended to as long as 12 or 18 months. "Because there aren't many moving parts, there is no wear and tear on the generator, and the only component that needs replacing during a service is the filter."

On a completely different note, recent developments have seen tyres contributing to truck efficiency, thanks to new products from Vacu-Lug Traction Tyres. To highlight the efficiency of a 7.5-tonne electric truck, the Lincolnshire-based manufacturer has created the first set of tyres coloured green. Much more than a mere marketing stunt, the silicates used to produce its retread tyres have helped to reduce rolling resistance by 18%, compared with traditional rubber, according to Vacu-Lug Traction Tyres' Dave Alsop.

The tyres, which have been fitted to The Delivery Co's electric truck, promise to be the first in a range, if the company gets its way. "We are going to produce another batch of the green compound and use it on our own vehicle fleet to raise awareness of the improved rolling resistance," says Alsop. "We will produce a range of super singles as well as 295 and 315/80 drive tyres, and we're in talks with various operators about fitment to their fleets."

Meanwhile, focussing on fuel economy, rather than emissions directly, there is huge potential for billions of pounds to be saved across the UK's LCV and HGV fleets, through intelligent technology and automatic on-board driver education. That's certainly the view of Lysanda, an engine software firm, founded in 2005 by ex-Ford powertrain refinement specialist Alex Willard, shortly after the Jaguar F type programme was cancelled.

The company – best known for its Eco-Log Pro, typically used on proving grounds to determine vehicle baseline fuel consumption for given duty cycles – has developed what Willard describes as an accurate computer model of whole powertrains, all encapsulated in a dash-mounted computer. Called Eco-Log Metro, it provides a rev counter-like LCD driver display that not only records fuel consumption (via a link to the diagnostic port), but also reveals driving efficiency in real time – acting as an instant teaching aid, with coloured bands to indicate performance. Interestingly, it also transmits that information back to the fleet manager via a mobile phone connection.

"EcoLog Metro monitors engine usage profiles all the time against optimum operating bands held in our model, constantly adapting to vehicle drag, road conditions, payload etc [which it senses]," explains Willard. "So it constantly assesses the driver's behaviour in terms of acceleration, gear shifts and braking. For example, it won't penalise him for accelerating into spaces in heavy traffic, but it will complain about accelerating hard at 60mph, because that's very fuel inefficient."

As a result of a two-day trial, Lysanda believes that a 200-strong LCV fleet that covers, say, 20,000 miles a year could save £195,000. "We ran a Mercedes Benz Vito 111 CDI, with a 2.2-litre diesel engine," explains Ruth Dixon, Lysanda operations manager. "While the official combined consumption figure in the handbook is just over 34mpg, we achieved an independently verified 53.9mpg." Looking at the country as a whole, Dixon suggests, that, with around 3.5 million LCVs on Britain's roads, this kind of system could save £3.4 billion in fuel – and consequent emissions.

And it's not just about LCVs: Willard again: "We're also targeting HGVs. One of our first sales is a fleet of 70 line haul 44 tonners. We're not expecting the same level of fuel improvements, because trucks with semi-automatic gearboxes are far more sophisticated and are already being driven at 80% efficiency. But there are issues, for example, around accelerating and braking on and off slip roads, where cruise controls aren't ideal. So we reckon, 5% is a realistic improvement – and that's a lot of fuel for HGVs."

Returning to emission controls and considering the problem of black carbon, emission control systems specialist Eminox points to its products, aimed at reducing particulate matter (PM) and NOx on bus, truck and PCV (passenger commercial vehicle) applications. Its latest development combine technology from its CRT (continuous regeneration traps) and SCR (selective catalytic reduction) units to form the SCRT system, said to reduce PM by as much as 95% and NOx by nearly three quarters.

Two filters in the SRT section oxidise CO, HC and NO, and the resulting gases are then directed through a wall-flow filter, trapping the particulate matter, which is then continually oxidised by NO2, removing it from the exhaust gas. The SCR section then removes NOx in the conventional way, using AdBlue.

Fitting the Eminox products is relatively straightforward, but maintaining the systems is often handled by the manufacturer, says Eminox's Kathye-Ann Henderson. "A service is suggested on an annual basis by Eminox engineers, who operate at three sites around the UK: London, Stoke-on-Trent, and our HQ in Lincolnshire," she says.

A mobile service is also available and filter servicing can be undertaken by operators on site, using the company's filter exchange service to keep costs down. Henderson adds that while the majority of the SCRT products are on buses running in LEZs, such as London and Norwich, the company is seeing more interest from truck manufacturers.

Finally, on a purely environmental note, fuel loss through siphoning or spillage can cost fleets thousands of pounds, with the latter posing additional health and safety and environmental risks, both on the road and in the yard. With 157,000 units sold, TISS Security Systems' TankSafe 'Impregnable' fuel device might offer theft protection but, just as important, it also prevents diesel spills.

TankSafe uses a float-valve that allows fuel to flow into the tank, but locks off once the tank is full, making it impossible to overfill the tank. In addition, the valve means spills cannot occur when the truck is being driven, even without its fuel cap. TISS says that if a vehicle loses on average 25 litres of fuel per week, the device pays for itself in just seven weeks. Interestingly, it also adds that customers have reported an increase in fuel economy of up to 10%.

Satellite navigation – truck style
Tales of lorries hitting low bridges and journeys that take HGVs down narrow streets, causing chaos and wasting fuel, could all be consigned to history thanks to various developments in the satellite navigation industry. A number of products have been developed specifically for the truck market, the Freight Transport Association being one organisation quick to promote the virtual map breakthrough. The TomTom GO 7000 is now available from the FTA and, as well as avoiding narrow roads and low bridges, journeys have a bias for motorways and major roads.

By entering weight and dimensional data into the unit, information on clearance heights, weight restrictions, speed restrictions and problematic sharp turns are provided to the driver. The unit can be adapted to suit a variety of vehicle sizes, and a map share function allows drivers to make corrections to their own maps, adding, for example, access restriction information.
In a similar development, new software has been developed by Navigon, and is now available as a download for operators running the company's 6310 and 8410 units, tailored to avoid small villages or low bridges across more than 20 European countries. Like the TomTom GO 7000, Navigon Truck Navigation can be tailored to specific truck dimensions, while it can also alert other users to hazards such as road blocks, as well as recent changes made to a specific route.

Finally, satellite navigation via smartphone has arrived. Away from the traditional navigation system manufacturers, GeoLife and PosiMotion have sent an application to the Apple App Store that enables personal turn-by-turn navigation on both the iPod touch and the iPhone. When approved it will be the first navigation system for the iPod Touch, turning the unit into a personal navigation device with smart routing, interactive maps and spoken directions.

The implications for road transport engineers are more cost savings, as it integrates with readily available products such as the iPhone, taking away the need to invest in standalone navigation units. It is also compatible with Windows-based phones and the next stage in the products' development is likely to involve handheld units used by delivery fleets to record signature confirmations.

John Challen

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