Nine City of Edmonton trucks have been fitted with a nifty gizmo that shows promise of saving us thousands of liters of wasted fuel – and cutting our carbon footprint – by reducing needless hours of engine idling.
The units are part of a two-phase Fleet Services Branch pilot program to evaluate the ability of computer-assisted anti-idling technology in certain classes of City vehicles.
The program is breaking new ground for the City, and also for the gizmo’s manufacturer.
An idling 3.5-litre engine uses approximately two litres of fuel per hour, so you can imagine how much fuel is wasted, and how many greenhouse gasses are emitted, by a municipal fleet of more than 4,000 vehicles, even if only a percentage of them are needlessly idled.
Bill Wilson, project engineer with Fleet Services, says there are some quite valid reasons why some vehicle engines need to idle. Ambulances, for example, or trucks with big flashing safety arrow bar lights, and big trucks whose diesel engines have idle-speed controls to power technical equipment like vacuums and pumps.
But then there are those drivers raised in an era when cars and trucks had to be warmed up considerably longer than today’s standard of a couple or three minutes. What used to be required is now just simple habit.
“People like to step into a warm vehicle. If they leave the vehicle, they like to come back to a warm cab, or in summer, a cool one,” Bill says.
He says there are other reasons for excessive idling, such as heavy trucks that are forced to line up and wait for a long time before they are able to load or unload.
The anti-idling device is wired into several of the vehicle’s systems. It activates only when the parking brake is engaged and the transmission is in Park. After three minutes of idling, it verbally warns the driver, then shuts the engine off.
“It knows when the driver has made a conscious decision to immobilize the vehicle,” says Bill.
It will not shut the engine off if the cab temperatures is below 16 degrees Celsius, or over 24 degrees Celsius, and it will not shut the engine off if battery voltage drops because of something like flashing lights and safety arrow bar operation. Conversely, if the truck has been turned off, it will re-start the engine if the cab temperature or battery voltage fall out of range.
In Phase One of the pilot program which ran for several months last summer, Fleet Services tested the anti-idling device on four light duty pickup trucks, a small aerial truck and five heavy duty sander/dump trucks. The devices were activated only to establish a baseline of idling habits of drivers so data can be compared to the baseline when the devices are fully operational in the second phase of the test.
Phase Two tests – with the systems fully activated – are being tested now until the end of May, after which the manufacturer will provide both Fleet Services and its client departments with a comprehensive analysis of the results.
“That will give everyone the information they need to determine the cost-benefit of the units in terms both of reduced fuel consumption and fewer carbon emissions,” says Bill.
The system was originally designed for use in lighter duty fleet vehicles, so this is the first time that the manufacturer has tried using it in heavy duty vehicles. For this reason, the pilot program has cost the City nothing but equipment technicians’ time for installing the systems.
Co-operating with Fleet Services on the pilot program are Transportation Roadways Maintenance and Community Services Facility Maintenance Services.