2017 Green Truck Summit presented clean energy solutions for commercial vehicles

This article was published in the April 2017 edition of NTEA News.

Hundreds of industry professionals came together at the 2017 Green Truck Summit to learn how the industry can make an immediate impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) and criteria pollutant reduction. Held March 14–16 in conjunction with The Work Truck Show® 2017, the Summit featured an expert speaker lineup, including regulatory agencies, fleet managers, commercial vehicle manufacturers, and stakeholders from various industry trade associations and professional societies. Sponsored by Freightliner Trucks, this year’s event featured a keynote address and six general sessions on opening day. For the remainder, attendees could choose from Green Truck Summit and Work Truck Show concurrent sessions.

Keynote address
Dr. Wilfried Achenbach, senior vice president of engineering and technology at Daimler Trucks North America, gave this year’s keynote address.           

Achenbach offered insights into the technology, energy and environmental issues shaping the future of the work truck industry. He provided global perspective on how commercial vehicles will evolve — in terms of technology, fuel and functionality — in the next decade and beyond, and how concepts develop into actions to produce reliable, production-ready vehicles. In his words, “we are living in a time of change.”

During his presentation, Achenbach covered three main topics: connectivity, active safety and autonomous driving, and propulsion technology. Regarding connectivity, he referred to the data wave; options to report safety systems, driver behavior and fuel economy exist and will keep expanding. Availability of operational data is expected to increase, intensifying in the near future to include remote software updates on trucks and powertrain functionality that predict preventative maintenance. Achenbach referenced the human machine interface, saying there will be more and bigger displays on trucks. To handle connectivity, he discussed the need to ensure cyber security and rely on interface standards coming from SAE International and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Achenbach indicated autonomous driving could significantly improve road safety. According to him, map data will likely become more targeted, and GPS resolution will improve. He said, “Our trucks will have more sensors than ever, so they can anticipate and see what’s going on.” To support autonomous vehicles, there’s a need for infrastructure and technological changes. In addition, the legal system would need to determine guidelines, and society would have to accept the concept. In summary, he said the transition to autonomous vehicles will not happen overnight. It’s an evolutionary, step-by-step process and may take longer than anticipated — especially for heavy-duty trucks.

In terms of propulsion technology, Achenbach stated, “Currently, our workhorse is the diesel engine.” Diesel is easy to refill and readily available, with a high energy density and established distribution network. Unfortunately, it’s not optimal from a GHG perspective. However, since 1988, amazing strides have been taken, and emissions have become lower and lower. Recent agreements created a framework for reduction of GHG emissions. According to Achenbach, “If we continue burning diesel as we do today, we will not be able to live up to those limits.” At present, China emits the most carbon dioxide emissions, followed by the U.S. and European Union, respectively. Achenbach referenced Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) GHG regulations and indicated a steady upward trend in fuel efficiency. In the foreseeable future, 10 miles per gallon will become the new normal for tractor-trailer combinations.

In conclusion, Achenbach shared, “Very honestly, there is no simple answer.” Without discounting the diesel option, he recommended exploring renewable fuels to solve the GHG emissions issue.

General session highlights
Six general sessions followed the keynote address. The first featured representatives from California Air Resources Board, Department of Energy and Transport Canada. During the presentation, these government and agency leaders shared their vision and outlook on regulations, policies and drivers making zero-emission movement of people and goods a priority for national policymakers.

In the next session, industry leaders from UPS and the Union of Concerned Scientists suggested ways to shift toward zero-emission commercial fleets in the future. A variety of topics were addressed, promoting a long-range vision of using currently available fuels and technologies and deploying innovation in vehicle applications and duty cycles where most effective. Upon presenting fuel and technology options, experts advised reflection points at 2030 and 2050.

The session following covered renewable fuels — options that now encompass natural gas, propane, electricity and diesel, with hydrogen, DME, and others likely to come. Fleet managers and members of the scientific community gave analysis on developmental needs and volume possibilities, explaining how systematic matching of vehicle applications and fuel types can meet sustainability objectives and lower overall life cycle costs.

The delegated assembly provision of Phase Two GHG regulations was detailed in the subsequent session. Industry experts and EPA explained the requirements, which involve auxiliary power units, aerodynamic devices, hybrid components and natural gas fuel tanks. Speakers outlined the possibilities associated with this unique provision — downstream converters and commercial vehicle upfitters entering into contractual relationships with the certificate-holding manufacturer to account for any GHG-reducing fuel or technology added to a vehicle.

In the next presentation, an executive from the North American Council for Freight Efficiency overviewed how fleets are integrating new products and technologies into their commercial vehicles. As Phase Two GHG rules finalize, new freight movement configurations are becoming available for trucks and trailers. Attendees heard a candid assessment of the pros and cons surrounding these innovative applications.

The final Green Truck Summit general session, presented by NTEA Managing Director Doyle Sumrall, delivered industry perspective on next steps and actions that can be implemented now to move toward the vision of an effective and efficient path to zero emissions.

Save the date
The 2018 Green Truck Summit runs March 6–8, in conjunction with The Work Truck Show at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Learn more at worktruckshow.com.