Trucking isn’t sustainable by nature. After all, the industry relies on thousands of gas-guzzling vehicles that contribute to pollution on a massive scale.
However, growing concerns about trucking’s negative environmental impact have forced fleets to adopt more sustainable practices, improving their public perception and leading to cost savings.
Here are the biggest changes that are already in the works. Trucking companies invested in becoming eco-friendly should employ them to reap the environmental and financial benefits.
Electric Truck Advancements
Adopting electric vehicles is the most significant change that can make trucking more sustainable. The exhaust from internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles accounts for 29% of emissions in the U.S., with 23% coming from commercial trucks. Switching to EVs would remove almost two-thirds of these emissions right off the bat.
To understand the potential of electric truck fleets, you simply need to compare the average emission rates. The average diesel freight truck emits 161.8 grams of carbon dioxide per ton-mile. By comparison, a battery electric version produces at least 63% lower emissions, according to estimates from the International Council on Green Transportation.
Eliminating emissions from engine exhaust is just the first benefit of switching to electric trucks. They also have lower operational costs because electricity is cheaper than fuel, especially since diesel costs are so high. As EV technology improves, electric trucks will become more reliable and perform better than their gas-powered counterparts.
The expansion of the global charging infrastructure will also accelerate electric fleet development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S. has heavy-duty EV charging stations in the works with low-cost fast charging amenities. Meanwhile, Europe opened its first truck charging corridors in early 2023 at strategic locations across the continent.
Solar panels are crucial for these electric truck stations, providing a constant source of megawatt-scale electricity to enable fast charging. It takes about eight hours to charge an average EV battery from empty to full. Charging speeds must be comparable with refueling speeds for electric trucks to become economically viable.
Other Renewable Energy Sources
Electricity isn’t the only type of renewable energy that can make the trucking industry more sustainable. Some fleets are experimenting with their own biofuel as a more eco-friendly and cost-effective alternative to regular diesel. If made correctly, biofuel burns more cleanly and produces fewer particulate emissions than fossil fuels.
Another possible alternative is hydrogen-powered fuel cells. For example, auto manufacturer Volvo has fuel cell trucks that create electric power from hydrogen molecules rather than combustible fuels. The cells release water vapor instead of toxin-filled smoke and have a range of more than 600 miles based on testing results.
Wind-powered vehicles could also make a splash in the trucking industry. Wind isn’t the primary energy source, but this addition can significantly reduce fuel consumption. Manufacturers simply have to install a wind generator on the rig’s airfoil. When the driver presses the brakes, the airfoil opens up and the generator’s turbines start spinning to store energy for later use.
Wind turbines would be most beneficial on mountainous roads or streets with many traffic lights — the two routes truckers struggle with the most. The more the driver has to apply the brakes, the more energy the turbines produce for the battery. The spinning blades can also make the vehicle more aerodynamic.
Fleet Optimization Strategies
Aside from adopting eco-friendly alternatives to diesel fuel, trucking companies can also implement fleet optimization strategies. GPS tracking software allows managers to monitor every delivery route and make real-time adjustments based on traffic patterns, road conditions and other external factors.
Meanwhile, load planning software provides valuable insights before the trucks leave the warehouse. Companies can consolidate each truck’s load to eliminate empty miles, maximize fuel efficiency and minimize the number of trips. This software relies on artificial intelligence to automatically gather data while human employees do their jobs as usual.
Predictive maintenance is another game-changing advancement. Rather than reactively repairing damaged vehicles, drivers and mechanics can proactively identify potential issues before they lead to mechanical failures. Predictive maintenance keeps the trucks in prime condition and helps businesses maintain maximum efficiency for their entire lifetimes.
Companies can also make many small design improvements so their trucks become more aerodynamic:
- Close the truck/trailer gap: Covering the gap between the truck and the trailer can significantly reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency.
- Install side skirts: Side skirts reduce airflow underneath the trailer and keep it flowing along the outside, helping the truck maintain its speed.
- Add a boat tail: Adding a boat tail to the back of the trailer can reduce turbulence, eliminating needless fuel consumption.
- Use wheel covers: Wheel covers allow air to flow past the tires and reduce drag on the bottom of the truck.
- Upgrade mud flaps: Slotted mud flaps that allow air to pass through are more aerodynamic than solid rubber versions with no holes.
All these changes combined can lead to big fuel savings, but fleet managers must be careful. They can’t make trucks too aerodynamic or else the drivers may lose control of their speed and cause an accident. Finding the balance between safety and efficiency has always been challenging in the trucking industry. Drivers should be aware of these changes so they continue to operate responsibly.
New Driver Standards
Although advancements in EV technology and fleet management are essential for improving trucking sustainability, human behavior is still the most important factor. People still have control over their vehicles, and most operate them with an eco-conscious mind. That’s why many companies have implemented new driver standards with fuel efficiency as the top priority.
Drivers can practice many sustainable techniques behind the wheel. For starters, reducing speed on highways from 65 mph to 55 mph can save 20% on fuel costs and reduce the number of accidents. Here are some other simple adjustments that improve the truck’s fuel economy:
- Avoid sudden braking and acceleration
- Don’t let the engine idle
- Anticipate the flow of traffic
- Crack the windows instead of blasting the A/C
- Take advantage of cruise control on highways
Fleets from different companies can also work together to improve their trucks’ performance. One strategy is platooning, in which multiple vehicles travel in close convoys to reduce wind drag. Platooning can cut the lead truck’s fuel consumption by 10% and the rear by 13%.
Businesses use fleet telematics devices and digital driver scorecards to monitor performance and ensure compliance with these standards. These scorecards automatically record vehicle conditions and driver behaviors, showing managers which employees are the most efficient. This next-level monitoring helps uphold the new industry standards and keeps truckers accountable for their actions.
Sustainable Trucking Has a Bright Future
Although the trucking industry is still one of the world’s leading contributors to pollution, it has a bright future in the sustainability department. EV advancements, emerging alternative fuels, fleet optimization technologies and changing driver behaviors can turn this essential part of the economy into one of the most eco-friendly industries on the planet.