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Submitted by Austen Yarosh on 20/02/2020

The transportation industry is known for using semi-trailer trucks to carry heavy cargo over long distances. These powerful big rigs can safely carry 48,000 pounds of cargo (ie: pallets of consumer goods, vehicles, household appliances, etc.) and run on diesel fuel. However, these trucks are a big cause for concern regarding pollution. The diesel soot that’s generated from these “semis” has been linked to human cancer. The burning of diesel fuel also emits nitrogen oxide, a group of greenhouse gases which can be toxic to people and the environment. But with new technology arriving in the form of electric batteries and cleaner burning engines, help is on the way.

Every day, we use transportation services to accomplish tasks. The use of tractor tractors carrying thousands of pounds of agricultural equipment, retail items, and consumer goods are essential to providing services and resources to our stores, warehouses and the people that need them. And traditionally, diesel was the fuel of choice as it was a cheaper alternative to gasoline. However, diesel also emits large quantities of soot and particles, which is detrimental to human health. In California, a typical day with 250,000 diesel operated vehicles on the road, 850 tons of soot is released into the air! The California Air Resources Board states that”70% of the cancer risk that the average Californian faces” is due to breathing in diesel emissions. With the rising prices of diesel and the average cost at approximately $70,000 a year per semi -truck, there is a better way to boost fuel economy while saving our health. One company has figured out a way to create a sustainable electric engine that doesn’t produce harmful emissions. On its heels is a competing institution that has also developed an innovative engine that, they claim, is an ingenious hybrid solution that has more advantages than the latter.

Tesla, an American manufacturing company that uses innovative and sustainable technology in the production of cars and solar panels, is beginning production for emissions-free engines to be used in semi- trucks. This new technology uses an electric battery that allows the rig to travel 500 miles on a

single charge. Plus, none of the toxic soot is emitted during travel. Typically, a semi has 2 diesel fuel gas tanks that can travel about 1200 miles in total, or 600 miles on a single gas tank. That’s pretty close to the power generated from the electric batteries being implemented in the new trucks. Plus, a healthy addition of cleaner air in the process. Production is slated to start this year, 2020, with companies such as Wal-Mart and J.B. Hunt placing their pre-orders.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has also developed a hybrid engine for these heavy haulers. This engine is mainly powered by batteries but is also paired up with an internal combustion system that’s ignited by a spark from a spark plug (aka: spark ignition engine). This combination allows the driver to plug in the battery for a charge as well as use gasoline, methanol, alcohol, or a combination of these fuels for travelling even longer distances than a diesel powered rig. This flex-fuel system has the advantage of burning cleaner, thereby not releasing any diesel soot particles that permeate the air in the black clouds that follow big rig tail pipes. This innovative idea also drastically reduces pollution, is efficient and weighs in at 1/10th of a typical diesel engine. By introducing the hybrid plug-in to the transportation industry, it’s showing that there is an answer on how to meet distance and cost requirements while eliminating the harmful effects of diesel exhaust particles.

Laws have become more stringent when it comes to the use of diesel powered heavy duty trucks. For example, the Environmental Protection (EPA) agency has enacted the Cleaner Trucks Initiative, which targets emissions outputs and regulates them. The EPA’s goal is to promote compliance with a national emissions protocol that advocates for cleaner air. Without strict regulations, the nitrogen oxide gases from diesel fumes can harm people with allergies, asthma, or heart and lung diseases. People can have aggravated symptoms from breathing in the fumes, thus forcing them to seek medical attention. Also, diesel dust particles cause inflammation in the lungs, can reduce lung function in children and is a known carcinogen causing lung cancer.

The state of California has enacted a new law, called the Truck and Bus Regulation, to help combat older engine emissions of toxic particles and fumes.

This law requires heavy duty vehicles (between 14,001 and 26,000 pounds) to be a 2011 model vehicle (or newer) or have a repowered 2010 engine (or newer). This new law is effective as of January 1, 2020.

With all of this talk about diesel engines vs. electric and hybrid engines and the effects of all of them, it’s notable to say that this may be the wave of the future for transportation of cargo and freight. With diesel prices skyrocketing and new laws promoting the implementation of alternative power sources for heavy duty trucks, the financial decision to own an electric or hybrid flex-fuel rig would be a smart investment. Especially since its ability to power through longer distances while possessing a cleaner burning (or noncombustible) engine may be cost effective and a good choice overall. The cost of owning, maintaining and fueling a diesel semi -truck averages $180,000 per year. The purchase price of a Tesla semi costs $150,000 or $180,000 with the lower cost vehicle travelling 300 miles before needing a charge and the latter at 500 miles before charging up. Tesla surmises that the savings could be $250,000 over the lifetime of the vehicle, factoring in lower operating costs. Although Tesla is still testing its truck handling features and capabilities, it’s keeping its customers up to date on its findings. So far, reports have been positive with discerning real world road hazards and engineering developments. With the advantages and savings of these ground breaking haulers, that could mean potential savings to consumers as well as cleaner air for everyone. Sounds like a win-win for everyone.

Submitted by Austen Yarosh on 20/02/2020

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