Powers Distributing, Lake Orion, Mich., was the first company to buy a significant number of diesel-electric hybrid trucks using the Eaton Hybrid Power System. That may seem like a big jump for a relatively small fleet, but the 74-year-old company has a deep commitment to social responsibility and that includes sustainability.
“The main benefit is to know we’re doing the right thing for the community,” explains Joe Dinverno, delivery/fleet manager. “The philosophy that started with the owners and has filtered down to all the employees is to be a completely green company. It may cost a little bit more, but we’re all about doing the right thing.” That’s why in addition to operating 32 diesel-electric hybrids, Powers also runs a biodiesel blend – B20 in the warmer months and B5 in the winter, so its trucks are doubly “green.”
That’s not to say there’s no economic benefit from the fuel-saving properties of a hybrid, Dinverno is quick to add.
“The truck cost kind of scares some businesses away, but you do see that ongoing economic benefit with fuel economy,” Dinverno says. The company may end up keeping these trucks longer than its usual six- to seven-year replacement cycle in order to realize the full return on its investment.
“They do put off less diesel exhaust; you can smell the difference with some of the nonhybrids we have. It’s really an amazing thing to listen to the truck going down the road and listen to those hybrid gears.”
Eaton’s diesel-electric hybrid is a parallel configuration that maintains the vehicle’s conventional drivetrain layout. It uses an electric motor/generator between the output of an automated clutch and the input of an automated transmission. The system recovers energy normally lost during braking and stores the energy in batteries.
The setup is ideal for stop-and-go applications where that regenerative braking can be put to the best use, and ones where the electric power can be used to power equipment such as utility buckets without running the engine.
In Powers’ case, the company delivers beer to some 2,400 retail customers.
“With the close proximity of the stops, we’re able to utilize the hybrid function of the truck,” Dinverno says.
The maintenance has been relatively easy, Dinverno says, with the help of Penske, which has qualified technicians on-site at Powers, as well as the local truck dealers.
A couple of battery pack problems have been taken care of promptly under warranty.
One key to success with the hybrids is driver training, Dinverno says. They learned the hard way that drivers who didn’t get training were not happy with the trucks.
“Once they were all trained and knew how to drive the hybrid part of it, they [the drivers] don’t like to go back and drive the conventional trucks.”
“You really have to pay attention to how you accelerate; if you accelerate sharply you won’t use the hybrid function, [so you won’t be saving fuel], and you really won’t go any faster.”
The first trucks were International ProStars; the company now has 22 in the fleet. With the early-generation hybrids, Powers is seeing about an 18% improvement in fuel economy. More recent purchases include six Peterbilt Model 337s and four Kenworth T370s.
With the later-generation Eaton system in these trucks he’s seeing 20% to 25% fuel economy improvement.
“That’s about two-thirds of our fleet now,” Dinverno says. “Our intention on a go-forward basis is to rid ourselves of the remaining conventional trucks and replace them with hybrids. We’re committed; we’re very happy with the performance.”
Powers may be even happier with the next round of hybrids it adds to its fleet. Eaton recently announced an improvement in its battery technology, giving it almost three times its previous capacity, for an estimated fuel economy benefit of up to 30% over a regular diesel. That should allow vehicles to run longer on the stored electric power, thus cutting fuel costs further. Eaton says it has done this without passing the incremental costs on to the truck makers.
In addition, changes over the years to the battery pack have made it more easily serviceable and more reliable, Eaton says. All that should improve the ROI calculations, and Eaton also works with customers to try to help fleets find funding and incentives to help drive down the initial additional cost.
Who’s making hydrids
BAE Hybridrive: For Class 6-8 trucks, it’s based on a single electric machine integrated with the engine and the transmission and can be installed with minimal impact to the vehicle. Propulsion is enhanced through an optimized blending of power from a conventional power source and from the electrical power source.
Eaton: This patented electric hybrid power system for medium-duty commercial vehicles uses a parallel configuration that maintains the vehicle’s conventional drivetrain layout and uses patented controls to blend engine torque with electric torque to move the vehicle. Primary markets are utility, city pickup and delivery, and buses. Available on selected Class 6 and 7 Freightliner, Kenworth and Peterbilt models.
EPower Engine Systems: Designed for retrofitting Class 8 vehicles, this is a series electric hybrid. It has no mechanical link between the engine and wheels. Instead, the engine runs a generator, which powers an electric motor. This boosts fuel efficiency by running the engine at peak rpm and eliminates the need for complex heavy truck transmissions. It uses 52 lead-carbon (PbC) batteries made by Axion Power International.
Hino: The 195H Class 5 COE is available as a diesel-electric hybrid. Hino says its Hybrid Adaptive Control System continuously communicates with the Engine Control Unit to evaluate driving and road conditions to optimize the truck’s fuel economy and performance.
Odyne Systems: This plug-in hybrid system for trucks over 14,000 pounds is available for new trucks or retrofit. It uses a Remy electric motor in parallel with the existing drivetrain to provide launch assist and regenerative braking. At the jobsite, the plug-in battery system, featuring Johnson Control’s lithium-ion battery packs, provides power for truck-mounted equipment without idling.