Next year, the United Parcel Service (UPS) will deploy on U.S. streets a new model of its signature boxy brown truck. At first glance, it'll look no different than any of the company's 93,000 other delivery trucks. Inside the hulking chassis, however, will sit a hybrid technology that uses a hydraulic motor in concert with a diesel engine to power the vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency received a patent on the system nearly a decade ago.
Of seven test trucks, UPS will launch the first two in Minneapolis during the first quarter of 2009. They will join UPS's 1,600-truck "green fleet," which includes electric hybrids and natural gas trucks. For a company that uses nearly 1.5 million gallons of fuel each day in the U.S. alone, energy-saving technologies are welcome. "I think we're going to be able to help the environment, but certainly it's going to be a good business decision, too," says Robert Hall, UPS's vice-president for automotive.
Scientists say the technology can cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30% and increase fuel efficiency by 50%. If they're deemed a financial success, the hydraulic components and the trucks could go into mass production by their respective manufacturers, Eaton (ETN) and Navistar (NAV), by 2011. The EPA estimates that the trucks, if mass-produced, will cost $7,000 more than the $40,000 to $50,000 UPS spends for one of its traditional diesel models. With diesel fuel now averaging $3.09 per gallon, the hydraulic model is expected to cover its higher up-front cost in three years.Assisting the Diesel Truck Engine
Similar to electric hybrids, hydraulic hybrids draw energy from braking, but are twice as efficient collecting that energy because the braking energy is not wasted by being passed into an electric motor. Instead, this energy is used to power a pump, which transports hydraulic fluid from a low-pressure reservoir to a high-pressure accumulator. As more fluid passes into the accumulator, the pressure grows, eventually being released as energy that is used to directly power the vehicle's driveshaft.
This allows the vehicle to move from a stop without taxing the diesel engine, which typically performs poorly while accelerating. Diesel engines are most effective when running at a steady rate, and lose a tremendous amount of efficiency when accelerating; the hydraulic system compensates for this weakness, and lets the diesel engine do its work once it's up to speed. This is especially important for UPS trucks that stop 60 to 70 times per day for deliveries and operate mainly in stop-and-go city traffic, where the hydraulic system can carry most of the burden.
In some respects, the technology represents the sort of government-backed research into "green" technologies (BusinessWeek.com, 3/24/08) that President-elect Barack Obama has suggested could revitalize U.S. energy infrastructure and create as many as 4 million new jobs. Research arrangements like the one between the EPA and Corporate America could be a precursor to significant future government investment into energy technologies during the Obama Administration. "Public-private partnerships have proven to be a more effective way for America to move more quickly to fossil-fuel independence," says UPS Chief Operating Officer David Abney.