Global road freight transportation accounts for about one-third of transport emissions, according to Our World in Data, and many experts believe that it will surpass passenger vehicles by 2050 to become a leading source of transport emissions.

Tesla’s launch of an all-electric Semi and Amazon’s new electric delivery vans are moving in the right direction, but experts believe it will be decades before electric vehicles replace long distance road fleets. In the meantime, the trucking industry is relying on technologies to improve the efficiency of its existing equipment and operations.

Let’s take a look at why the trucking industry is under pressure to reduce emissions and the technologies that could usher in a new greener trucking industry.

Global road freight accounts for about one-third of transport emissions, but new technologies could help the industry turn the corner. Click To Tweet

Pressure to Go Green

The trucking industry is no stranger to federal regulations. Federal and state clean air regulations have driven reductions in carbon emissions and improvements in truck fuel economy for many years. Most of these regulations encourage manufacturers to develop cleaner diesel models, but some, like emissions inspections, also impact trucking fleets.

Aside from top-down regulations, there’s also bottom-up pressure to reduce emissions. For example, Matt McLelland, Director of Innovation at Covenant Logistics Group, told FreightWaves that some shippers are starting to inquire about the company’s policies on sustainability as part of their requests for proposal submissions.

Investors are also putting pressure on all kinds of companies to create environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals and report their progress in meeting them over time. While funding is rarely contingent on these goals, investor interest in ESG-friendly companies is creating deeper pools of liquidity for ESG-friendly companies.

Fleet management, route optimization and driver performance are becoming important strategies to meet these standards and reduce emissions. Of course, the same policies can be very beneficial for companies since they improve fuel economy and profitability—and in some cases, provide an important competitive advantage.

Start with a Better Plan

The best starting point for reducing emission is better planning. In 2007, UPS famously eliminated left turns using new route planning technology, which cut almost 30 million miles from its delivery routes and saved 3.3 million gallons of fuel that year alone. The same principles of better planning can help improve long-haul trucking performance.

A common example is minimizing dwell/detention time. The average truck driver spends two and a half hours waiting at the shipper or receiver to load or unload cargo, which leads to $3 billion per year in costs and a lot of excessive emissions for idle engines (particularly in reefers). Drop trailers are a tried-and-true method to reduce these dwell times, while asset tracking tools can provide real-time insights into dwell times and asset turns.

Modern route planning software can also help increase efficiency on the road. Rather than simply finding the quickest route to a given destination, these tools can optimize for multiple variables, including the fastest time, lowest mileage and cheapest fuel stops along the way with commercial heavy duty vehicles in mind. These so-called “reverse logistics” strategies may also combine pickup and delivery to minimize the amount of time spent driving without a trailer.

Optimize Driver Behaviors

Driver behavior can significantly influence emissions. For example, driving at high speeds uses much more gas and causes greater wear and tear to the engine and tires. Every mile per hour increase in speed has a 0.14 mpg penalty in fuel consumption. On the other hand, cruise control that is set at the speed limit—and a reasonable RPM—minimizes these issues and can have a dramatic improvement on fuel economy and emissions.

Aside from adhering to the speed limit, modern ELD systems can monitor average speeds, acceleration, braking and other driver habits, as well as enable two-way driver communication to immediately address any driver-related problems. Trucking companies can use the information to reward efficient drivers through incentive programs as well as penalize non-compliant drivers that regularly violate the rules.

In addition to encouraging good driving habits, trucking companies should have protocols to ensure maximum efficiency. Truckers should regularly inspect their vehicles for low tire pressure and other simple issues that can significantly reduce MPG, as well as minimize idling when at a rest stop or at the loading dock in order to avoid unnecessary emissions and fuel waste. Again, these factors can be easily monitored with modern trailer tracking and ELD solutions.

Proactive Maintenance

Engine breakdowns are the most obvious sign of poor maintenance, but silent maintenance issues can quickly add up in cost well before a breakdown. For example, a malfunctioning catalytic converter can cause sluggish engine performance and a significant increase in harmful emissions long before it causes any kind of breakdown. Proactive engine maintenance can keep these costs down and reduce the odds of a breakdown.

Many trucking companies track engine hours, fuel levels and mileage as proxies for proactive engine maintenance. With best in class tracking technologies, these activities can be transformed from a manual task on a driver’s already-busy checklist to something that’s automatically done in the background. Drivers can focus their attention on brakes, tires, fluids and electrical checks on their routes, as well as keeping safe on the road.

Proactive maintenance can also be done opportunistically in order to minimize downtime. For example, a trucking company may plan a route with a stop close to a service station. The service on the truck could be timed with the driver’s HOS downtime in order to maximize on-the-road hours while ensuring regular vehicle maintenance.

The Bottom Line

Global road freight accounts for a growing percentage of transport emissions. While trucking demand continues to rise, customers are increasingly adding environmental concerns to their RFPs and investors are increasingly demanding environmental accountability. Electric trucks are in development but could still be years away from replacing existing fleets.

New technologies can improve the efficiency of existing fleets through better planning and real-time data insights. With modern in-cab ELD solutions and real-time cargo sensors, fleets can minimize idle time and maximize efficiency by instantly knowing where all of their assets are in the yard and better planning routes with vehicles on the road.

Powerfleet provides both in-cab ELD-compliant solutions, as well as freight cameras and trailer tracking tags to provide full visibility. For more information, check out our Powerfleet for Logistics products page.

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