The Key to Greener Fleets

The Key to Greener Fleets

Leveraging state-of-the-art technology to revolutionize fleet sustainability and energy efficiency.

A photo of two large trucks parked outside a structure which looks like a large garage (19932). Enlarge image

Trucks undergo thermal analysis at NREL's Vehicle Testing and Integration Facility (VTIF). The VTIF is used to explore climate control load reduction methods for light- and heavy-duty vehicles.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Green is more than a color of paint for truck fleets. These days, going "green" means reducing petroleum consumption by leveraging the smartest alternative vehicle technologies in the marketplace.

Industry leaders from Coca-Cola to FedEx, as well as many government agencies, are looking to do just that by turning to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for transportation expertise, not to mention research, data, tools, and deployment support.

"Our work provides unbiased, third-party data as well as tools and processes to help fleets understand what works or doesn't work," said NREL's Kevin Walkowicz, manager of the Testing and Analysis Group in the Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center. "You can use resources to build technology, purchase technology, or figure out how to best use technology."

Fleet managers across the country use NREL evaluations to operate medium-duty vehicles (MDV) and heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) more energy efficiently and cost effectively. At the same time, NREL supports the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) as the agency looks at fuel consumption by a broad range of light-duty vehicles across 16 participating federal agencies.

NREL Tools Decode Fleet DNA, Securely Store Data

A photo of a man walking next to a truck inside a garage area where there are cables and test machinery (22783). Enlarge image

Dynamometer testing at NREL's ReFUEL Lab helps researchers determine the fuel economy and emissions benefits of hybridization.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

One popular tool that NREL has developed is Fleet DNA, which allows users to access fleet vehicle usage data summaries and drive-cycle visualizations. The Web-based tool now offers the "genetics" for six MDV and HDV truck vocations, or uses, ranging from delivery vans to school buses.

Eventually, these categories will be broken into subsets, and users will be able to select data not just for vans, but for specific types of vehicle, such as those used for food, flower, or linen delivery. The National Truck Equipment Association is using the Fleet DNA tool to better understand which technologies work best in specific vocations.

Tools such as Fleet DNA all rely on accurate, real-world data—and gathering data is a major part of the work NREL does in the transportation sector. Since October, 2011, NREL researchers have been documenting the performance of electric and plug-in hybrid medium-duty trucks.

In addition, to help commercialize electric vehicles and the electric charging infrastructure they require, NREL processes and securely stores metrics from some 800 alternative fuel vehicles, all of which were deployed using funding by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The resulting quarterly reports are a treasure trove of information—offering insights into how much electricity the vehicles used, when it was used, and what energy savings resulted from the fleets going electric.

In 2012, NREL's Fleet Test and Evaluation team finished a yearlong evaluation of hybrid electric delivery trucks operated by Coca-Cola Refreshments in Miami, Florida. The team analyzed fuel economy, maintenance, and on-road performance data for five electric and five conventional diesel trucks. On-road tests showed the hybrids demonstrated a 13.7% higher fuel economy than their conventional counterparts.

These same vehicles were also tested at NREL's Renewable Fuels and Lubricants (ReFUEL) Laboratory to determine fuel economy and emissions benefits from hybridization. During dynamometer testing at ReFUEL, the hybrids demonstrated up to a 30% improvement in fuel economy, depending on how they were driven.

Others companies, including FedEx and Frito Lay, are collaborating with NREL to test hybrids and other advanced technologies in their fleets.

Secure Data, Evolving Tools, Efficient Driving

A photo of two men, one seated at a desk, and the other standing behind him, looking at a computer monitor in an office (22757). Enlarge image

NREL engineers Jonathan Burton and Petr Sindler monitor data from a test being run on the chassis dynamometer at the ReFUEL Lab.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

NREL's Transportation Secure Data Center (TSDC), which focuses on light-duty consumer vehicles, also provides essential information to further the research. Because the TSDC provides privacy protection for dataset participants, it has access to "scrubbed" data that spotlights actual on-road patterns.

"Understanding how people drive in the real world is important," explained Jeff Gonder of the Transportation and Hydrogen Systems Center.

High-level summary statistics, participant demographics, and second-by-second speed profiles are among the types of data users can download from the site. Users can also tap into spatial data through a secure portal after completing a simple application and approval process.

NREL is also continuing to refine its FEMP Fleet Sustainability Dashboard, or FleetDASH tool. This customizable dashboard tracks fleet fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle inventories by participating federal agencies, including most Department of Defense branches, land management agencies, and others. Users can search by sub-fleet or individual vehicle to check on fuel purchases. When there is a missed opportunity to purchase alternative fuel, the interactive site displays an alternative fuel site location.

And while looking at 170,000 light-duty vehicles may seem a very different science from conducting MDV and HDV studies, Federal Fleet Project Leader Ryan Daley said, "They are two different ways of attacking the same problem—getting the best fuel technologies on the road."

In the future, these efforts may become more intertwined as NREL continues its transportation leadership and the greening of fleets across the United States.

Learn more about NREL's Vehicles and Fuel Research Facilities.

—Written by Ernie Tucker

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