Breathing Easier: Anti-idling Technology at Tennessee Truck Stops

by Jeanie E. Gosline

In Tennessee, trucking drives the economy. According to 2011 figures, the trucking industry in Tennessee provided 183,550 jobs, or 1 out of 12 in the state. Total trucking industry wages paid in Tennessee in 2011 exceeded $7.5 billion, with an average annual salary of over $40,000. More than 91% of Tennessee’s communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods, and the industry pays millions in federal and state roadway taxes and fees.

But all of those trucks create an air quality problem for the state. Improvements in diesel engines have helped alleviate some harmful emissions, but it has not been enough in a state where trucking is such a principal industry, one that is expected to grow as the economy recovers.

“Heavy-duty diesel engines like those on big trucks, tractor trailer rigs, those are a significant contributor to the air quality problems that we have,” said Alan Jones, manager of the Energy Policy Office in the Long Range Planning Division in the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). “Even if we put more freight on our rivers and on our railroads, even if we do that to the maximum extent possible, we’re still going to need trucks. You’ve still got to deliver to the grocery store on the corner.”

Idling is one area in which the state is tackling air pollution from the trucking industry. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on average, each idling truck produces about 21 tons of carbon dioxide and 0.3 tons of nitrogen oxides annually. Some truck stops and truck-stop technology companies are looking into alternative technologies to alleviate this problem with funding assistance from government agencies.

A federal law passed in 2003 requires long-haul truck drivers to rest 10 hours for every 11 hours spent on the road. Many drivers spend that rest period in their cabs, typically with the truck idling to warm or cool the cab and power electronic equipment such as microwaves, DVD players, and computers. In addition to contributing to air pollution, idling engines use about a gallon of diesel fuel per hour, and the emissions are a threat to the health and comfort of the driver.

In 2009, TDOT received a $2 million American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) grant from the EPA to begin equipping truck stops across the state with truck stop electrification (TSE) technology that powers heating and cooling equipment and electrical appliances without idling the engine.

One truck-stop project team, Eco Travel Plaza and East Tennessee Clean Fuels, won a $580,000 EPA grant to install TSE equipment for all 50 of the site’s truck parking spots. TDOT submitted its own proposal for a competitive grant program for additional truck stops along interstate highways. Their program was approved, and four truck stops were converted to TSE technology, with a total of 110 spaces. The technology is either owned by the truck stop, or technology companies own the equipment and have a revenue sharing arrangement with the truck stop. Three truck stops that TDOT worked with remain open; the fourth is under new ownership and planning to reopen with the technology that was installed with the grant money.

Eco Travel Plaza’s owner, Dom Demko, worked with two TSE vendors, AireDock and Shorepower, and took the next step of installing solar panels to offset the electricity the new TSE would use. Money for the 35 kilowatt solar array installation came in part from the Solar Installation Grant Program, sponsored by the Tennessee Solar Institute, and part of Governor Phil Bredesen’s Volunteer State Solar Initiative, also funded by the ARRA. Demko also replaced most of the lighting at the truck stop with LED lighting. With the anti-idling technology in place, Eco Travel Plaza could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 21,818 tons over the next 10 years and reduce nitrogen oxides by 337 tons and particulate matter by 10 tons.

TDOT also looked at alternative ways to save costs and energy at the truck stops they were working with. One truck stop in White Pine got approval from the EPA to use refurbished steel for the support structure that holds the HVAC units, and with the savings from using refurbished steel instead of new, the truck stop was able to purchase solar technology.

Even though moving truck stops toward TSE technology and away from idling practices is a clear win for truckers, truck stops, and the environment, it has not been easy to get truck drivers and trucking companies to use and support the technology.

“The thing that we still have to work on is how…do we increase their usage?” said Jones. The cost of TSE per hour is one-third to one half the cost of burning a gallon of diesel fuel, depending on the price of diesel. “That’s not difficult math—so why aren’t more drivers using it?”

Part of the challenge, Jones believes, is to demonstrate the economic benefits to drivers, and once the truck stops start to see a net return, they will view using TSE as a viable business model. “Once that happens, then maybe we can get more of these facilities installed across the country. Because I think that’s what we need,” Jones said, especially if fuel prices continue to rise.

The bottom line, according to Jones, is economic: to get more truck stops to convert to energy-efficient, environmentally friendly technology such as TSE and solar power, there needs to be more education and outreach about the potential savings for truck drivers, trucking companies, and shipping companies. It is not just about saving energy and reducing air pollution—it saves the trucker and the trucking company money.

“I think that the best strategy is to work with the technology vendors, [to] get them to work with the truck stops,” said Jones, who acknowledges that these kinds of energy developments are often of little concern to independently owned “mom-and-pop” truck stops with a small staff. This is why he thinks, going forward, it makes sense to focus on the technology vendors and encourage them to make contact with the truck stops.

Even with the challenges involved in the process, Jones makes it clear that pursuing anti-idling and anti-pollution solutions in his state is vital. “I think it’s really important we continue to try to work at this.”