UNL study helping reduce emissions

By:  Kelly Sommariva

Some UNL students are helping truck drivers sleep a little easier and in the process, it's saving thousands of gallons of fuel.

After being on the road all day, truckers often sleep in their cabs while idling, with the heat or air going, but half the U.S. states now have idling bans.  While that helps reduce air pollution, it can also put drivers in an uncomfortable situation.

Dr. Larry Rilett, Director of the Nebraska Transportation Center explains it best by putting yourself in the driver's shoes.  Imagine you're a trucker running long hours on the road.  Every 24 hours, you're mandated by law to rest for eight hours.  Rilett says, “You can imagine in weather like this, 100–110 degrees, and you have to rest for eight. hours, but you can't run your engine.  It's a safety issue for the drivers.  You really want your drivers rested and comfortable.”

Idling a diesel uses about a gallon of fuel per hour.  Without it, a driver can't use heat or air conditioning.

Civil engineering students at UNL have managed a project putting auxiliary power units, or APU's in nearly 300 trucks. When attached to the cab, the driver can use the heat and air without the engine running.

The students used a $1 million grant from the EPA and matching funds from several trucking firms.  While it saves more than 80,000 gallons of fuel annually, each APU costs at least $6,000.  Rilett says, “The big issue is getting the funding.  That was a big benefit to the firms, is to get some cost sharing so they could get their payback period lowered.”

The paybacks are for more than the trucking companies.  EPA calculations say by lowering emissions, the project could save over $300,000 in health care costs each year.  Rilett says, “Trucks that go to the large cities, New York, L.A., Chicago that do have pollution issues and by putting the vehicles on these we're actually doing a benefit for those places.”

The units will pay for themselves in about three or four years. Meanwhile, civil engineering students at the transportation center will continue to evaluate the environmental impacts of the APU's.