Working as a truck mechanic 20 years ago, Serge Viola saw little in the way of fuel economy and environmental measures. There were relatively fewer trucks on the road, and few restrictions, regulations or concerns about their impact.
"It's a different mindset today," says Mr. Viola, the director of fleet and ground linehaul at Purolator Inc. Indeed, green technologies and fuel efficiency measures figure prominently in his position overseeing the company's 5,000 trucks, trailers and vans across the country. "We are looking for what we can do to have less of an impact on the environment that we operate in and the community we operate in."
The matter is increasingly critical to truckers, trucking companies and their customers in an era of green consciousness, skyrocketing oil prices and an ever-growing dependence on trucks to transport freight.
Purolator has especially focused on introducing hybrid-electric technology to its Class 4 pick-up and delivery vans, beginning with a handful of vehicles in 2005 and today numbering 405 out of a total of 3,000 vans, with 200 more to be added each year for the next three years. Purolator has the largest fleet of hybrid vehicles for a logistics company in North America.
The hybrid system uses electricity created and stored in a battery in conjunction with a gasoline engine. The vans run on this electricity - and thus have the biggest environmental and economical impact - in slower traffic and on routes with frequent stops and starts, Mr. Viola says.
The hybrid technology is less beneficial and applicable in highway driving, where the conventional engine kicks in at faster speeds. But such "linehaul" trucks can be outfitted with a range of other green measures, mostly focused on improving aerodynamics and reducing emissions.
Loblaw Companies Ltd. is the first Canadian retailer to test a hybrid Class 8 tractor-trailer truck, and is especially looking at using hybrids for its urban delivery routes, says Wayne Scott, the senior director of national fleet maintenance for Loblaw.
The company's goal is to have "the greenest fleet in Canada," Mr. Scott explains, with measures from streamlined design and software that stops trucks from idling for more than five minutes to optimized routes and loads. There is especially a focus on driver training, which he says plays the biggest factor in fuel economy. Last year Loblaw enjoyed 2.3-per-cent fuel savings, equal to 18 trips around the world in a Class 8 truck, he says. This year the goal is to reduce fuel consumption by another 5 per cent.
One concern when it comes to new green technologies is whether there is adequate infrastructure to use and maintain them, he adds. "There's lots of stuff out there on the market that's great to see, but is it really sustainable one or two years out?"
Among alternative fuels, liquid natural gas (LNG) shows promise in lowering greenhouse gas emissions, for example, although the engines cost twice as much and there is no distribution network for LNG in Canada.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), which represents more than 4,500 trucking companies across the country, has asked for government incentives to develop viable green technologies and to encourage trucking companies to adopt them, including subsidies, rebates and accelerated capital cost allowance measures.
Since 2006, diesel engines and diesel itself have been modified to generate much less smog than in the past. In a joint statement earlier this year, the CTA and Pollution Probe said that if trucking companies were regulated and assisted to bring in a "full suite" of fuel-saving technologies, their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions could drop as much as 50 per cent.
"At no time in the trucking industry's history have our economic goals been so aligned with society's environmental goals," says David Bradley, the CEO of the CTA, calling today's oil prices "a built-in incentive to enhance fuel economy."
With high capital costs for some of the environmental equipment, he says that truckers would appreciate the kinds of green subsidies available to the biofuel industry and other transportation companies, such as the railways.
Indeed, every one of Purolator's fleet of 43 delivery vehicles in Halifax is hybrid electric, Mr. Viola says, with the changeover partially financed through the ecoNova Scotia Fund for Clean Air and Climate Change.
The hybrid systems can mean a 30-per-cent savings on fuel, depending on a driver's driving style, as well as the routing and weather, he says. Without incentives, the hybrid delivery vans cost almost double conventional ones and have a seven-year payback, he adds, "which is a long time" given the 10- to 12-year life of such vehicles.
Greener trucking is good for business in other ways. Purolator's customers, especially large companies and governments tendering for courier contracts, are able to lower their own carbon footprints through the environmental practices of their contractors. Purolator, in turn, asks the same of the 350 third-party carriers it uses, Mr. Viola says.
Green measures can also be good for the maintenance side of the trucking business, he adds. For example, the electrical assist in hybrid trucks mean less stress and wear on the vehicle's transmission, starting motor, alternator and braking systems.
Mr. Viola says that Purolator has tested a fully electric van and is working on technologies such as new fuels and lighter-weight vehicles, as well as optimizing trucking routes.
"Today it's not a choice, it's something you have to do," he adds.
A wide range of green technologies and measures are available to clean up trucks.
Hybrid electric vehicles - Vehicles that combine a conventional internal combustion engine propulsion system with an electric propulsion system.
Ultra-low-sulphur diesel - Practically smog-free diesel engines are possible with diesel's substantially lowered sulphur content and new emissions control technologies.
Aerodynamic fairings - Some 19 per cent of energy burned by a truck is used to overcome aerodynamic resistance on the tractor and trailer or the gaps between them. Aerodynamic devices called fairings fitted to the vehicle minimize drag and ensure smoother airflow around it.
New tires - Reducing "rolling resistance", the friction between a rolling tire and the ground, through tire design, materials and proper inflation, can improve fuel efficiency. "Single wide tires" replace each set of dual tires with one extra-wide one, offering aerodynamic benefits, less rolling resistance and less weight.
No-idle technology - software that shuts off engines after a few moments of idling reduces exhaust emissions.
Cab power and hear units - Auxiliary units that provide power and heat cabs when drivers take a break or go to sleep bring creature comforts at a fraction of the cost of running the engine.
Speed limiters - Sometimes called a governor, a speed-limiter is a built-in microchip that allows a truck engine's top speed to be preset, ensuring that it operates at a safe speed, conserving fuel, reducing emissions and improving tire and brake wear.
Driver training - Teaching techniques to drivers such as shifting gears at the lowest possible RPM and minimizing idling can significantly improve fuel economy.
Multiple-axle vehicles - Adding axles to trucks increases the amount they can carry, requiring less fuel per load.
Long-combination vehicles - One tractor pulling two trailers, long-combination vehicles are being tested by a number of carriers in Canada. On average they consume 30 per cent less energy than two tractor-trailers.
Special to The Globe and Mail