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Alternatives to Diesel Fuel: Reducing Emissions with Electric Semi-Trucks

Image Credit: Tesla

 

In the wake of the popularization of electric cars, scooters and bikes, sustainability is one of the most controversial buzzwords in the transportation industry. Reducing air pollution and fuel consumption is a worldwide obsession and the biggest names in the automobile industry are playing right along. Developers are consistently expounding on ideals of efficient trucking, but the practicality of such is up for substantial debate.

Semi-trucks are one of the only remaining transportation systems that hadn’t been seduced by the glamour of electric and increasingly sustainable fuel sources, until now. Diesel big rigs have been running the game for far too long and now is finally the time for more environmentally-friendly options. Get ready, because the trucking industry is going green at a stunningly fast rate.

Tesla’s Electric Semi-Truck is Here

Electric-operated semi-trucks are emerging more than ever. Modern intelligence mogul Elon Musk recently announced a new option for truckers worldwide who were looking to lower fuel costs, reduce emissions, and achieve maximum efficiency in their resource usage. From the popular yet controversial brand Tesla, the new semi-truck option has the entire trucking community buzzing.

Simply called the “Tesla Semi,” the new truck has sparked provocative discussions about the practicality of the green movement for the entire trucking industry. Musk asserts that not only is this option better for the environment and pollution levels, it’s beneficial for the truckers themselves. In a mockup, he compares the acceleration efficiency of his Semi to a traditional diesel truck. The new Tesla truck supposedly can go from 0-60 miles per hour in a mere 20 seconds, an acceleration rate which would greatly increase on-road efficiency and traffic flow for truckers.

On top of the mechanical superiorities, Tesla claims that this new innovation will help to save costs with an estimated $200,000 in fuel savings. While this number may seem appealing initially, it’s estimated for over a span of two years and might not outweigh the additional costs that come along with such a high-tech purchase. With an expected base of $180,000, it’s no mystery why many truckers are skeptical of the payoff. While an electric truck may save in fuel, such a high cost upfront isn’t realistic for most truckers, leaving them still searching for more financially realistic diesel alternatives.

Fuel Cell Alternatives

A slightly less costly way to achieve an alternative power source for the trucking industry is through hydrogen-fuel cell powered vehicles. Hydrogen fuel cells create energy without burning the same polluting outputs as conventional diesel. Combining Hydrogen and Oxygen creates a power source that has been found to be remarkably efficient for transportation.

Toyota, a more traditionally obtainable brand is releasing its first truck powered by hydrogen fuel cells in the last quarter of this calendar year. They partnered with Kenworth Trucking Co. for their mutual goal. They seek to reduce emissions at major U.S. ports that were experiencing especially bad air pollution from the high trucking traffic that took place there. The truck is fitted with two fuel cells that have been determined to provide substantial power for the alternative semi-trucks.

Toyota and Kenworth both assert that this move was motivated by environmental awareness, but it coincidentally is a politically popular move. They are seeking to eliminate air pollution caused by heavy trucking routes and develop more sustainable practices to propel trucking into the future of fuel technology.

This truck is suspected to be slightly more affordable upfront, since the funding for the research and production of these vehicles was partially funded by government initiatives that sought to reduce large masses of harmful emissions, which pose a threat to public health. Public funding will most likely lower final costs to consumers as those expenses aren’t factored into base costs.

Electric vs Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power

Both hydrogen-fuel cell powered trucks and full-electric trucks have their individual benefits in respect to efficiency and reductions in emissions, but it’s hard to definitively say which is the superior choice for a trucker seeking zero-emissions options. The final decision will depend on the individual needs of each route.

Additional factors such as charging/fueling opportunities and availability can sway the practicality option of these developments drastically. Developing charging stations and fueling ports for hydrogen cells will require substantial updates to major highways and interstate peel-offs in order to accommodate the long, often expansive routes of cargo delivery drivers. If this trend flourishes, alternative fueling stations will need to massively grow in abundance to accommodate the nature of the industry itself.

The trucking industry contains infinite intricacies that can often be complex and unpredictable, so it’s immensely important to properly educate yourself before exploring any type of alternate semi-truck options. Even if you’re not ready to commit to the investment of alternatively powered semi-trucks, there are lots of ways fleet owners can conserve fuel and help reduce emissions. Check out other helpful tips and keep up with the latest industry news with Mission Financial.

DOT Overturns California Trucking Regulations

 

California tried to update its trucking laws to more closely resemble a typical work environment but was recently overruled. In an office setting, it’s suggested that employees take frequent breaks to stretch and refocus. Getting up from a desk and getting time away from the harsh blue light of a computer can be helpful for workplace wellness. While small breaks throughout the day are fine when you have to merely stand up from a desk, frequent breaks are more of an interruption than a relief for truckers.  When government regulations attempt to force them into the same box as office workers, their needs aren’t being properly met.

California’s Strict Break Requirements   

Typically, drivers get a 30-minute meal break per day and are not permitted to drive for more than 11 hours at a time. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit passed a law in 2014 that required California drivers to take a paid 10-minute break every 4 hours and a 30-minute meal break every 5 hours. The breaks were also required to be taken separately as to further break up driving. The law also pushed back total driving time allotted to 12 hours before stopping for the day to sleep and rest. These regulations are considerably stricter than the surrounding states’ rules, particularly the 10-minute break requirement that only adds tediousness to a drive. The inconsistency between states has drivers fearing for the efficiency and predictability of their routes.

Flaws in the Plan

While consistent breaks work effectively in a traditional office environment, the trucking industry is unique and doesn’t conform to the same standards of a typical workplace. After the passing of this law, national protest came from industry officials and benefactors alike. One group in particular who signed numerous petitions was the American Trucking Association (ATA). The law was designed by people who were supposedly unfamiliar with what truckers and transport businesses actually want and need. The law would greatly differ from regulations in other states, and therefore robs drivers of their consistency and routine. Having such different regulations from one state to another doesn’t allow truckers to properly plan their meal breaks and rest stops, as the timing would become complicated and tiresome.

Additionally, stopping too frequently breaks up work flow in a way that can actually be more tiring for drivers. In a more conventional office, breaks might help to relax and ease the stress of a workday, but for truckers, it can do the opposite. It also significantly cuts down on efficiency, so it’s a taxing financial regulation as well; less productive drivers mean longer transport times and more money spent per route. More time pulling off of the highway to take excessive breaks leads to less distance covered per day and therefore higher costs for transported product and harm done to the American consumer. In fact, driver productivity in California was reduced by three percent after these regulations were passed, according to an FMCSA Administrator.

FMCSA Grants Petitions

In 2018, the ATA filled a petition with the Department of Transportation (DOT) that proved all of the following points:

  • “California’s meal period and rest break laws offer no additional safety benefit beyond the safety benefit generated by the hours-of-service requirements
  • The laws are incompatible with the hours-of-service regulations enforced by the Department of Transportation
  • The meal and rest break laws cause an unreasonable burden to drivers and carriers operating in interstate commerce”

After a long debate, the DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granted the petition, stating that California trucking companies were no longer required to provide paid rest and meal breaks. While the law was initially set in place to create safer driving conditions for truckers, industry gurus asserted that more national consistency would lead to safer trucking practices as opposed to additional breaks.

Standards for American Drivers

While regulations that require excessive breaks can be a burden for productivity, the intent behind the California law was to decrease worker exploitation in the trucking industry, which is a persistent problem. Commercial truck drivers are often forced to work long hours without substantial breaks, and while California overstepped in execution, the industry is making strides by putting these necessities in a federally sanctioned domain. Truckers already work some of the country’s longest and most tiresome hours in our nation and need helpful standards to prevent their hard work from being exploited. Now that California trucking companies are no longer required to provide paid breaks, drivers can choose when and how they take them.

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