Ready-mix trucks may fall under a new guideline that would consider total pay-load, not just miles per gallon.
Ready-mix trucks may fall under a new guideline that would consider total pay-load, not just miles per gallon.

For several decades, car manufacturers have been engineering to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFÉ standards. Currently at 27.5 mpg, the requirement increases to 35.5 mpg for the 2016 model year. And if that seems like a difficult target, some are speculating that 47 mpg to 62 mpg are in the works for 2025.

Obviously, these do not pertain to trucks. They are for class 1 passenger cars and light-duty vans and pickups. But commercial vehicles, like those operated by concrete producers, have not escaped government interest. They range from class 2 (250/2500 series) pickup trucks to class 8 ready-mix trucks and tractor-trailers.

Commercial vehicles comprise just 4 percent of the on- and on/off-road universe, but they consume 20 percent of vehicle fuel. Recognizing that, the government is preparing regulations for our segments of the transportation industry.

Under the direction of President Obama, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are proposing new fuel economy and emissions standards for commercial vehicles. The standards are to be based on 2010 trucks.

Model year 2010 is a significant starting point for measuring improvement. It represents the final phase of particulate and gaseous emissions reductions for diesel engines. Starting in the late 1990s, EPA proposed three levels of emissions reductions.

Industry was given a reasonably long lead time to engineer the first reductions. For model year 2004, nitrogen oxides (NOx) were limited to 2.4 grams per horsepower hour (g/hp-hr). But because the Clinton Administration accused engine makers of cheating on previous standards to achieve better fuel economy, the 2004 standards were moved up by 15 months to October 2002.

For 2007, particulate matter (soot, unburned fuel, lube oil evaporations, and ash) were limited to 0.01 g/hp-hr, and NOx to 1.2 g/hp-hr. In 2010, NOx was further reduced to just 0.2 g/hp-hr.

That had to do with diesel engines alone. The new EPA/NHTSA proposal involves the total vehicle. The initial plan is to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 20 percent compared to 2010, starting in 2014. By 2018, average fuel consumption will be reduced 20 percent.

Changing the measure

Measurement will no longer be in miles-per-gallon. To reflect work done, pay-load will be considered. The new metric will be grams of CO2 per ton-mile and gallons of fuel per 1000 ton-miles.

For any given state of the economy, there is a finite amount of product to be shipped. That could be bushels of produce to the supermarket, tons of steel to the fabricator, or in our case, yards of concrete to the jobsite.

Concentrating only on exhaust emissions, as EPA has until now, restricts innovation. Now that emissions are about as low as they can practically get, focusing on emissions and fuel efficiency per ton-mile opens up new areas for research.

For example, we can tweak engines to get a few more tenths of a mile per gallon, but we can now approach the problem with weight savings, aerodynamics, tire technology and additional technologies as yet undreamed of. Experience has shown that meeting environmental goals comes with a price, but now these goals should have a payback. Part will come in fuel savings, and the rest from increased payloads.

When any hydrocarbon fuel-gasoline, diesel, or natural gas burns completely, the byproducts are water vapor and CO2. Water comes from hydrogen in the fuel combining with oxygen in the air. CO2 is the combining of carbon, also from the fuel, with oxygen.

The amount of CO2 is directly proportional to the type and amount of fuel burned. That proportion is fixed, but the more efficient we can make the total vehicle, the less fuel will be needed. And if 19 trucks can do the work that 20 used to, fuel requirements are cut, thus lowering costs.

Payload can be increased by lightening the vehicle. Let's assume that a 36-foot bridge mixer with a 66,000 gross vehicle weight rating can handle about 9.5 yards at capacity. If new materials such as high-strength alloy frames, foamed metal axle housings, and composite cross members can lighten the truck by 1500 to 2000 pounds, you can add an extra half-yard per load. That's a significant effect on productivity.