Municipality Sustainable Fleet Management – Increase Vehicle Efficiency

 In Fleet Sustainability

As more local and city governments enforce legislation to protect their citizens from harmful air pollution, municipal fleet managers need to find innovative ways to improve the efficiency of their fleets to meet these new guidelines.

This series, designed specifically for municipal fleet managers, delves into the strategies that will help you to sustainably manage your fleet, in order not just to save costs, but also to reduce the environmental impact associated with your transport operations.

In this post, we focus on the strategies to improve the efficiency of the vehicles within your fleet. Improving vehicle efficiency will not only result in reduced fuel spend, but will also reduce greenhouse gas and airborne particle emissions, make your vehicles safer to operate and to be around, and reduce costs associated with vehicle maintenance.

Preventative Maintenance Schedule

A comprehensive preventative maintenance schedule is essential to extend the life of the vehicles in your fleet, increase their safety and reduce their emissions. It also helps to reduce vehicle downtime, allowing you to improve your fleet vehicle utilization ratio.

The improvements you can achieve will in part be determined by the age and original condition of your fleet, but proper inspections and follow-up maintenance have been shown to reduce fuel consumption by 3-7%, and reduce emissions by up to 20%.

Driver’s checklists are imperative to get early warnings of potential problems, and if your vehicles are fitted with a telematics system linked to the CAN bus, then this can provide vital real-time information on the vehicle’s state of health. 

Maintain correct tire pressures

Maintaining tires at the correct pressure can significantly reduce fuel consumption. For every 4psi that tires are under-inflated, fuel consumption increases by as much as 2%.

By ensuring that vehicles have properly inflated tires and correct wheel alignment, you will not only improve fuel performance, but tires will last longer, and vehicles will be safer to drive as they will be less likely to skid. 

Nitrogen tire inflation

Compressed air contains 21% oxygen, which leaks out of the tire wall faster than nitrogen. Moisture present in the oxygen also causes the tire rubber to wear out faster, resulting in slow leaks and deterioration that reduce the tire’s durability.

With nitrogen tire inflation, tires will keep their pressure longer, resulting in improved vehicle responsiveness, better fuel efficiency, and less chance of blowouts. 

Reduce vehicle weight

At the point of purchasing new vehicles, weight should be an important consideration for municipal fleet managers, since this directly affects the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. When reviewing lightweight alternatives, be sure to get guarantees from the manufacturers that any changes in material will not impact the performance or prevent the vehicle from being able to perform its intended role.

Lightweight metals such as aluminum and titanium and composite technologies such as carbon fiber are now commonly used by vehicle manufacturers and can reduce a vehicle’s weight without compromising its functionality or safety.

Use of auxiliary power to reduce idle time

In the cold months, drivers will often leave their engine idling to keep their cab warm, and then in summer to run the A/C in order to keep the cab cool. This is a very inefficient use of the vehicle, increasing its fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases and other contaminating particles.

By fitting auxiliary power units (APUs) to provide climate control to the cabs, fleet managers can reduce idle time considerably. This reduces fleet fuel consumption and emissions and saves engine wear and tear. A heavy vehicle idling will use almost 3 liters of diesel per hour and an APU can reduce fuel consumption by over 80% compared to idling.

In refuse collection fleets, auxiliary power units can also be used to power the lifting gear of refuse vehicles, so that they don’t have to remain idling as they empty multiple bins at one location.

Alternative fuels and vehicles

Many municipal fleet managers are now making sustainable purchasing decisions in order to reduce costs, as well as to improve the environmental performance of their fleets. These can range from requiring that new vehicles meet fuel efficiency standards, to the use of alternative fuels, to purchasing green vehicles such as electric or hybrid.

Depending on vehicle size and duty cycle, there is now a wide spectrum of alternative powertrain options to consider when updating your fleet. However, cost and productivity must be comparable to conventional engines in order for fleet managers to be able to justify making the transition. The differing characteristics of municipalities can also influence the viability of different powertrains, with factors such as topography, climate, and scale influencing their potential performance.

Sustainable biofuels

The greatest benefit for biofuels is that they can be used with existing diesel engines with little or no modification, making the cost of implementation relatively low. They can also be used either as a pure fuel or can be blended with diesel at any percentage. This can be particularly important in colder climates, as a higher blend of biodiesel may lead to fuel gelling in the winter months.

Using biofuel from sustainable sources, such as used cooking oil and animal fats reduces your municipality’s fossil fuel consumption and reduces exhaust emissions, while improving the public image of your fleet. Sustainably produced biodiesel reduces CO2 emissions by around 50%, rising to around 90% for waste vegetable oil.

However, it is important to ensure that your biofuels come from sustainable sources, since growing crops for biofuels may compete with subsistence crops for land and water use or reduce biodiversity. It is therefore important that fleet managers can verify the source of their biofuel.

Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)

Compressed natural gas allows municipal fleets to reduce their carbon footprint and decrease emissions of harmful air pollutants. Natural gas is abundant, cheaper than diesel or gasoline, and is lower in carbon, offering a 25% carbon reduction when compared to conventional fuels.

Compressed natural gas has been found to be a suitable fuel for heavy-duty vehicles with a low daily range, across a range of load capacities. Many refuse trucks, street cleaners, and transit buses are now using this fuel. CNG conversion kits can also be retrofitted to light-duty vehicles.

Natural gas can be a valuable transitional fuel for municipalities that enables them to reduce their current carbon emissions while preparing facilities for the future use of hydrogen fuel cells. Fleet managers can become accustomed to using a gaseous fuel, which will assist in the future transition to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles when this technology becomes more advanced.

The current disadvantages are the lack of refueling architecture and the higher capital cost of purchasing a natural gas vehicle.

Biomethane

Biomethane is another natural gas option, produced either from landfill gas capture, or from the anaerobic digestion of biomass. As it is a renewable fuel, using biomethane in your vehicles will not only reduce emissions compared to conventional fuels, but will also reduce your fleet’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Biomethane can reduce CO2 emissions compared to diesel by between 60-70%. One of the main benefits of this fuel compared to diesel is much lower NOx and PM emissions, which can be reduced by between 30-50%. This represents an opportunity for municipalities to make a significant impact on air pollution levels. No change in vehicle technology is required to run natural gas vehicles on biomethane.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Hydrogen fuel cell technology offers a longer range and shorter recharging time compared to electric vehicles, while also being zero-emission. There are several trials in place to ascertain its future viability, including of hydrogen fuel cell buses in London. However, currently the vehicles are prohibitively expensive, and the infrastructure is missing.

By 2030, based on projections that hydrogen fuel costs will fall to below the per-energy-unit cost of diesel, it is predicted that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could cost at least 5%–30% less than diesel vehicles to own, operate, and fuel.

In addition, facilities that have been built to handle compressed natural gas vehicles would also be able to transition to handle hydrogen-powered vehicles in the future.

Electric and Hybrid Vehicles

Electric vehicles use a battery to store energy and are powered with an electric motor. Most can be recharged by plugging into a standard electrical socket, although faster charging requires the installation of dedicated fast charging equipment.

Hybrid vehicles combine a diesel or gasoline engine with an electric battery and motor. The battery is continually recharged by the engine or from the energy generated during braking.

A wide range of manufacturers now produce hybrid or electric vans and smaller trucks that are suited to urban driving. The ideal fleets are those with a low mileage range, that go back to a base where they can charge overnight.

The downside of electric vehicles (EVs) in the heavy-duty vehicle arena is that the battery has a negative impact on the payload of the vehicle, as well as reducing usable capacity.

However, for light-duty fleets, EVs are proving to be a popular option for municipal fleet managers that have to reduce not just their fuel expenditure, but also the emissions of their vehicles in order to meet their environmental goals. Of all the current powertrain options available, EVs offer the greatest opportunity for fleet managers to improve city air quality, as they create zero roadside emissions from the tailpipe.

Electric vehicles also provide fleet managers with savings in maintenance costs compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, since a full electric powertrain has no oil or transmission fluid to change, and no spark plugs, air filters, or exhaust to replace. Brake pads also last longer in EVs due to their regenerative braking mechanisms.

With FleetCarma’s Electric Vehicle Suitability Assessment, fleet managers can see the environmental and financial case for transitioning to electric, based on real duty cycles, taken from the vehicle side. The report provides a roadmap for when and where to switch to EVs in a reliable and cost-effective manner.

 In order to successfully transition to electric, municipalities need to also invest in a suitable charging infrastructure to support those vehicles. Vehicle telematics data can highlight common dwell points that would make suitable locations for charging points.

Use of telematics systems

Telematics systems that are linked to the vehicle’s CAN bus provide the fleet manager with vital vehicle performance diagnostics. Reports on individual vehicle performance and maintenance schedules can be controlled on the systems, and alerts on diagnostic trouble codes can be emitted when faults are detected, providing management with an invaluable early warning system.

If you are transitioning your fleet to electric vehicles, then you will need a telematics system that can support all powertrains, including electric. FleetCarma’s fleet management software will support your current and future vehicles, and for electric vehicles, it provides valuable information on battery state of health (SOH) to help you differentiate between operational issues that may be reducing range, versus a fading battery.

Industry benchmarking

Once you have established your fleet’s key performance metrics, you can use the data from your telematics system to compare performance over time. Comparing between vehicles within the same class and on similar duty cycles will help you to identify any vehicles with poorer efficiencies that might be an indication of degradation in health, or the result of excessive idling.

As well as using this performance data for internal review, you can also use it to benchmark your key metrics against other municipalities. The practice of publishing your consumption data and sharing it with similar fleets can allow for the pooling of best practices, sharing of insights, and in turn, offers the opportunity to further improve your fleet’s performance.

Alternative vehicle technologies

As well as identifying alternative powertrain options to increase fleet efficiency and reduce emissions, savings can also be made by exploring other vehicle adaptations.

Regenerative air sweepers

These modern road sweepers create a high-velocity air column that is then propelled through the sweeping head. This high-volume blast of air is forced against the pavement, loosening debris and transporting it into the hopper.  Unlike mechanical sweepers, regenerative air sweepers can remove particulate matter including PM10 from the roadside, which contains a high percentage of phosphates, heavy metals, and other pollutants.

Compaction vehicles

In refuse collection fleets, substituting a compaction vehicle for a top loading vehicle when collecting voluminous material will reduce the number of tips, decreasing route mileage and increasing collection efficiency.

Conclusion

Fleets that have implemented fuel efficiency programs can achieve savings in fuel expenditure of over 10%, with even greater savings possible when green vehicles are incorporated into the fleet. Many municipalities have found that the cost of implementation of these strategies is easily paid back.

In the final post in our series, we look at the final part of the puzzle that ensures efficient vehicle use and sustainable fleet management – driver efficiency.

 

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