Small power unit runs quiet and helps trucking companies save big on diesel.
CENTRAL POINT — Big rigs get lousy mileage, even when they're parked.
Long before diesel fuel prices headed toward $5 a gallon, Cross Creek Trucking could see dollars blowing out exhaust pipes.
Cross Creek drivers — like other long-haul operators — spend hours parked en route to their destinations.
"Trucks idle between 10 and 13 hours a day and they burn a gallon an hour just idling," says Cross Creek General Manager Scott Fowler.
Now, with incentives from the state, Cross Creek is refitting its fleet of 115 semi-trucks with a Thermo King Tri Pac hybrid auxiliary power unit. The device allows truckers to shut down their main engines for enormous savings in fuel, dollars and emissions.
"Our yearly idle hours, on a low projected average, are somewhere around 2,000 per truck," Fowler says. "At $4.61 a gallon, it costs $656,640 just to idle our fleet. This will reduce our cost to around $109,000."
Trucks typically idle when drivers are sleeping or stopping off at rest areas or weigh stations.
"When a driver goes into severe weather conditions, the big engine has had to idle so the sleeper can be climate-controlled," Fowler says.
"Now the driver can shut the engine off, run this little motor and keep comfortable whether they're sitting or sleeping," Fowler says.
While even the new 14-liter diesel engines burn a gallon an hour, the auxiliary units burn 8 to 10 ounces an hour.
Dollars aren't the only motivation in making the change.
Bill Harris, chief operations officer at Cascade Sierra Solutions, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group in Coburg, says that every gallon of diesel fuel spews out 22.2 pounds of carbon. Cascade Sierra Solutions ran into a willing customer when it met up with Cross Creek.
"We've been working with a lot of owner/operators and small fleets," Harris says. "Cross Creek is one of the largest fleets we're working with."
Cascade Sierra Solutions serves as the conduit for a state program providing low-cost financing for the Tri Pac units, which cost $6,900.
"Essentially they're exchanging an $800 fuel cost for a $200-a-month payment," Harris says.
Harris said fewer than 5 percent of the trucks on the road nationally have converted to the units, which improve fuel efficiency by 25 percent.
"It would be really great to see 15 percent of the trucks out there using this," Harris says. "Oregon is ahead of the curve adopting Department of Energy alternatives and fuel efficiencies."
Owen Kane, of Thermo King Northwest in Fairview, east of Portland, says demand for the 440-pound, 2-cylinder, 7.5 horsepower units has mirrored the price of diesel. His branch projects delivery of 1,600 units this year.
The device, which shares the fuel tank with the tractor, charges batteries and preheats the main engine as well as heats and cools the cab.
The technology was developed about a decade ago by a Thermo King dealer. The company bought the patent and the latest generation went into production two years ago. Cross Creek employees Sam DeSimone and Rollie Chisum went through the Thermo King certification program and install and maintain the units.
Cross Creek primarily carries produce in its refrigerated trailers. Its trucks covered 13 million miles in 2007 and consumed 2.4 million gallons of diesel. With the changes, Fowler hopes to see efficiency boosted from between 5.5 and 6 miles per gallon to between 6.5 and 7.
"We've been battling the fuel crisis every way we can," Fowler says. "We want to keep idle time down and don't want the big engine on unless we're rolling. We want to take the shortest routes from Point A to Point B, and every mile we need to be loaded so we're getting paid. We're not doing less miles overall, we're just trying to run smarter."
He said the driver shortage that hit the industry a few years ago has abated.
"Since the economy slowed down a little bit, we've had a better driver selection," Fowler says. "A lot of guys who were framing houses are driving again. They had their commercial driver's licenses and have fallen back on that to put food on the table."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail email@example.com.