The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Aaron Huertas, Assistant Press Secretary

Available Technology Could Dramatically Cut Truck Fuel Consumption, Pollution, New Report Finds

California Air Board Will Issue Draft Truck Rule Tomorrow


Technology available today could dramatically reduce big-rig-truck
fuel consumption and emissions that cause global warming and smog,
according to a new report released today by the Union of Concerned
Scientists (UCS). A major side benefit: Truckers would save
significantly on fuel costs.

"Truckers can make relatively simple modifications to their rigs,
save themselves a lot of money over the long run, and save all of us
from pollution," said report author Don Anair, a UCS senior vehicles
analyst. "We have the technology today to get this done."

UCS released the report one day before the California Air Resources
Board (CARB) is expected to issue two new draft rules for trucks
registered in California as well as those entering the state. The first
rule would require trucks to reduce global warming emissions with
off-the-shelf efficiency technology. The second would require truckers
to install filters or upgrade their engines to reduce smog-forming and
particulate matter emissions. The board is expected to vote on each
measure in mid-December after a 45-day public-comment period.

The rules would help the state meet its
global-warming-emissions-reduction and air-quality goals. Trucks
account for approximately 7 percent of global warming emissions in
California and the nation at large. In California, trucks are the
largest of source of smog-forming nitrogen-oxide emissions (30 percent)
and diesel particulate matter (45 percent). The rules also would have
an impact on the rest of the country: Some half a million trucks from
out of state pass through California annually.

CARB's proposed global warming pollution measure for trucks is one
of nine early action measures the board has identified as part of its
implementation plan for the state's landmark global warming law. If
CARB requires trucking companies and independent truck owners to take
full advantage of global-warming-pollution-reduction technology
available today, the report concludes, it would:

  • Reduce heat-trapping emissions by 17 million metric tons of
    carbon-dioxide-equivalent in 2020, an amount equal to taking 2.5
    million of cars and trucks off the road.
  • Reduce annual national diesel fuel consumption by 1.4
    billion gallons and annual California consumption by 200 million
    gallons in 2020, equivalent to 5 percent of the state's expected use
    that year.
  • Nationally, total fuel savings between now and 2020 would be
    11.8 billion gallons, representing $21.5 billion in reduced fuel costs
    (in 2008 dollars, at a diesel price $3.24 per gallon)
  • Reduce smog-forming pollution an additional 473 tons in 2020
    above and beyond the improvements achieved by installing exhaust filter


When traveling at highway speed, a typical truck uses half the
energy from burning diesel fuel just to overcome drag. Equipment that
allows air to pass over the tractor and trailer more easily will
dramatically reduce fuel use. Such equipment could include:

  • An aerodynamically styled tractor with a sloped hood and full roof
    fairing, an anattachment that reduces drag by directing air over the
    trailer and covering up protruding smokestacks
  • A rear-trailer fairing, flap attachments that direct air smoothly away from the back of a trailer; and
  • Trailer side skirts or body panels that cover gaps between wheels, allowing air to smoothly pass over the sides of the trailer.

Tires also play a critical role in fuel economy. Replacing two-tire
sets on trailers with wider, single tires and heavy steel wheels with
light-weight aluminum wheels, among other improvements, can boost fuel
economy as much as 5 percent.

For a typical, new long-range truck traveling more than 130,000
miles per year, available technology could reduce fuel use more than 12
percent. That would translate to annual savings of more than 2,000
gallons of diesel fuel each year and a net profit of $30,000 during the
truck's first 8 years, the average time such a vehicle will spend doing
long-distance trips. After 8 years, long-range trucks are typically
sold into medium or short-range service. Overall, long-range trucks
account for 35 percent of diesel fuel use in California and typically
average 6 to 6.5 miles per gallon.

"The average big-rig truck currently is burning 20,000 plus gallons
of diesel fuel per year," Anair said, "so installing available,
efficient technology on new tractors and trailers is a clear win-win
for reducing emissions and saving money."


Besides recommending that new tractors and trailers feature this
technology, it pointed out that retrofitting tractors and trailers
already on the road also can significantly cut global warming emissions
and save truck owners money. Retrofitting existing trucks as old as 12
years with a full package of available fuel-efficient technology still
would provide tractor-trailer owners lifetime cost savings. With trucks
beyond 12 years of age, truck owners could benefit by installing a more
modest upgrade package.

For fleet owners, a full technology package would produce cost
savings for trucks and trailers as old as six years. The difference
between the two cost-benefit analyses is due to the fact that trucking
companies typically own 2.5 trailers for every tractor. The report
assumes their initial investment in fuel-efficient technology would be
greater than owners of single tractor-trailers.

The report's analyses are based on a diesel fuel price of $3.24.
Anair noted that if diesel prices increase over time, technology
packages would produce greater overall savings and even older vehicles
would realize net savings. Reducing fuel use can lower operating costs
for truckers, thereby lowering shipping costs for retailers and
consumers. Trucks are expected to drive 21.3 billion miles on
California's highways in 2020, a 33-percent increase from today's 15.9
billion miles.

"Trucks present a huge opportunity to make big cuts in global
warming pollution," said Anair. "The sooner we start, the more money
truck owner will save and the faster we get on the road to meeting
California's global-warming-reduction goals."

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.