The impact of trucks on greenhouse gas emissions is oversized. Comprising just over 4 percent of vehicles in the United States and 9 percent of total mileage, they consume more than 25 percent of fuel—50 billion gallons of diesel each year. Worldwide, road freight is responsible for about 6 percent of all emissions, and growing.
There are two tracks for increasing fuel efficiency: (1) building it into the design of new trucks and (2) driving it up in rigs already on the road.
New models are sporting:
- better engines and aerodynamics,
- lighter weights,
- less rolling resistance for tires,
- hybridization, and
- automatic engine shutdown.
Based on 2010 U.S. prices, investing in these modernizations for a new truck can cost around $30,000, but save almost that much in fuel costs per year.
Because tractor-trailers remain on the road for many years, addressing the efficiency of existing fleets is critical. An array of measures can trim energy waste and increase fuel performance, such as anti-idling devices, upgrades that improve aerodynamics and reduce rolling resistance, and automatic cruise-control devices. Added up, they can make a significant dent in fuel use and costs.
“The greenest gallon”: Anderson, Ray C. Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2009.
domestic freight tonnage: Davis, Stacy C., Susan W. Diegel, and Robert G. Boundy. Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 35. Oak Ridge National Laboratory and U.S. Department of Energy, 2016.
United States…[use] of diesel: ATA. “American Trucking Trends.” Arlington: American Trucking Association, 2011.
percent of vehicles…mileage…[and] fuel: The White House. Improving the Fuel Efficiency of American Trucks. Washington, D.C.: The White House, 2014; Davies, Alex. “Making Trucks More Efficient Isn’t Actually Hard to Do.” WIRED. June 24, 2015.
road freight…emissions: Ribeiro, Suzana Kahn, and Shigeki Kobyashi. “Transport and Its Infrastructure.” In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
[growth] outpacing…personal transportation: Eom, J., L. Schipper, and L. Thompson. “We Keep on Truckin’: Trends in Freight Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in 11 IEA Countries.” Energy Policy 45 (2012): 327–341.
modernizations…cost around $30,000: National Academy of Sciences. “Technologies and Approaches to Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles.” Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2010.
Payback…one to two years: Lee, Tessa Margaret, and Matthew Stanley Cullinen, eds. Road Transport: Unlocking Fuel-Saving Technologies in Trucking and Fleets. New York: The Carbon War Room Research and Intelligence Group, 2012.
Tractor-trailers…average [lifespan]: Lee and Cullinen, Road Transport.
reducing fuel use…yearly savings: Lee, Tessa, ed. Confidence Report: Idle-Reduction Solutions. New York: Carbon War Room and North American Council for Freight Efficiency, 2014.
Correction: Diesel trucks were first introduced in the 1930s, hit their stride in the 1950s, and now move roughly half of land freight.