Submitted by Tyler Duvall
According to the EPA, in 2015 the transportation sector was responsible for more than one quarter of our nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions1. About a quarter of that came the from medium and heavy-duty trucks used for transporting vital freight throughout the nation. These vehicles are essential to the economy and transport everything from food and supplies to the latest gadgets and tech that are becoming increasingly important in society. Over the past few decades, global climate change has become the subject of a heated debate centered around the greenhouse gasses that are causing it. International conferences have been held and pledges have been made (Kyoto Protocol, 1997) for industrialized nations to reduce their emissions, but in 2015 this number still topped 5,828 million metric tons2 of emissions in the U.S. alone. From the numbers, roughly one eighth of that comes from the use of commercial freight vehicles. This leaves the question of what can be done to combat this global environmental problem without crippling the economies of nations that rely on these vehicles?
At this point in time, there is not an economical green alternative for businesses to rely on other than trucking their goods. Trains are timely and costly and don’t have the same level of convenience as a truck and trailer and are also don’t have the same level of mobility. So as a business owner or business that specializes in shipping, such as A-1 Auto Transport Inc. these vehicles represent your livelihood and are essential for the success of the business, regardless of their environmental impacts, this, however, should not be the bottom line, something still needs to be done to reduce the amount of pollutants being produced.
In recent years advancements in electric vehicle, technology have shed light a possible solution to make the commercial trucking industry greener. The Tesla Motor Company recently unveiled an electric semi-truck that will soon be in production. According to the Tesla website, a 300mi and 500mi range model will be available and retail at $150 and $180 thousand respectively with projected savings in fuel cost to exceed $200 thousand. Although this is a step forward because it provides a greener alternative for companies, at this point, it is still not an economically feasible for companies that specialize in commercial trucking to convert their entire fleet to electric vehicles. It will also be difficult to convince the older generation to accept this new mode of transportation when their entire career has been spent operating fuel driven trucks.
Another problem with electric trucks is that the technology is still brand new and has not been tested by industry standards. For example, say a company that specializes in long-distance freight shipping, is in the market to purchase a new semi to expand their business. They may already have a brand that they trust that has been in business for decades, and with a simple online search, they can find a new vehicle in their price range of around $85,000 (a 2018 Kenworth T370 was found with a price of $83,280) 4. When their new vehicle needs fuel, they can simply stop at a diesel pump and fill up, if it were to break down the company’s mechanics could likely perform diagnostics then fix it. As long as this new vehicle helps their expanding business remain profitable the business owners are satisfied and not even considering impacts that heavy vehicles have on the environment. At this point, there is no incentive for business owners to take a chance on an innovative technology and risk profits simply to limit their emissions. Although electric trucks may have a significant impact in the near future, this point they are not ready to be incorporated into an industry and an alternative solution must be developed.
Another way the commercial trucking industry can limit emissions is by burning biodiesel instead of regular petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is a renewable fossil fuel alternative that is made by refining the plant or animal fats or even recycling restaurant greases. There are many environmental benefits behind biodiesel, for example, its biodegradable and does significantly less harm in the event of a spill and it is much safer to handle. According to the U.S. Department of energy, it also releases significantly fewer greenhouse gasses and pollutants from combustion than standard petroleum diesel5. Although there are many environmental benefits to burning biodiesel in trucks opposed to petroleum diesel, there are specific economic stipulations that are preventing it from replacing petroleum diesel altogether.
One of the major drawbacks of biodiesel currently is the cost versus performance when it is compared to petroleum diesel. According to the U.S. fuel economy database6 biodiesel is currently being sold in multiple different varieties (usually as a mixture with petroleum diesel). It is currently more expensive (consumer reports listed it as 84 cents per gallon higher) than standard petroleum diesel and when it is used in its pure form (100% Biodiesel) it suffers a 10% decrease in both fuel economy and power output. Pure biodiesel also is not suitable for use in very low temperatures and has raised concerns on how it impacts engine durability. The 10% loss of fuel economy may be worth it because emissions would be cut upwards of 70%, but as an owner of a commercial freight hauling company this would clearly result in large reductions to profit margins. Using biodiesel alone would result in more frequent and more expensive stops at the pumps by the drivers which would end up costing the company more and more money, on top of the increased costs to maintain their vehicles. The increased costs of operation and liability are clearly a deterrent for widespread commercial use biofuels in industry.
The relationship between commerce and our ecosystem is an ongoing struggle without a conclusive answer at this point. A new era of clean energy needs to be ushered in so not only commercial trucking does less harm to the environment, but all other industries as well. Commercial trucking companies such as yourselves at A-1 Auto Transport provide a vital service that our economy will not survive without, however, a thriving economy is of the least importance on a dying planet. Generations of greed and abuse of fossil fuels have made a revolution in clean and renewable energy long overdue. It has created a problem that can only be solved be a generation of creative and talented scientists and engineers, sadly many of whom are struggling to pay tuition. However, given the opportunity through generosity for organizations such as your own change for a greener, more sustainable future can be achieved.
Submitted by Tyler Duvall
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