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EarthTalk - Is the failure of Yellow and opportunity to reduce trucking's carbon footprint?

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Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss

Dear EarthTalk:

Is the widely publicized failure of Yellow Trucking actually an opportunity for the U.S. trucking industry to reduce its carbon footprint?

Jerry B., Washington, DC

While no one likes to see companies fail and people lose their livelihoods, some environmental advocates do see the recent collapse of Yellow Trucking as a way to force the industry down a greener path. After all, the transportation sector is the largest U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) polluter, generating 20 percent of all domestic emissions. The freight trucking sector alone is responsible for roughly half of that. Given the slowness of trucking to adopt greener fuels, drivetrains and operations, environmental advocates see a lot of low-hanging fruit for reducing transportation’s carbon footprint.

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PROMO 64J1 Transportation - Semi Truck Tractor Highway Road - iStock - WendellandCarolyn

© iStock - WendellandCarolyn

What can trucking do to start becoming part of the solution to climate change? The obvious place to start is the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). There is no reason the same technologies now so widespread for passenger cars can’t be implemented at a scale for trucks, too. Indeed, Tesla is showing the way with the recent roll-out of its all-electric Semi, currently in use by a handful of major corporations and soon to be more common on U.S. highways. To that end, Tesla recently applied for $100 million in grant funding to develop a recharging infrastructure for EV trucks traveling between Texas and California. Tesla isn’t alone in trying to electrify trucking: At least 17 other manufacturers (e.g., BYD, Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Volvo, Tata) are competing for pieces of the EV truck pie.

Besides a wholesale move to EVs, there’s a lot we can do to green the truck operations. Encouraging the use of alternative fuels such as natural gas and biodiesel where applicable is a no-brainer. Meanwhile, enhancing the aerodynamics of trucks and trailers can reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Installing technologies like side skirts, boat tails and better tires can make a big difference in fuel efficiency.

Another way to green trucking is to implement so-called “smart logistics”—using advanced technology for route planning and load optimization to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Likewise, providing training to truck drivers on fuel-efficient driving practices and rewarding drivers for fuel-efficient behaviors can lead to significant fuel and emission savings. Employing real-time monitoring and data analytics to track fuel consumption, emissions and operational efficiency can help identify areas for improvement and further optimize trucking operations. And promoting freight consolidation and intermodal transportation—combining multiple “modes” like rail and truck—can reduce emissions by shifting some of the freight transport load to greener modes like rail, thus reducing the trucks on the road.

In 2022, the Biden administration unveiled stricter standards on emissions from trucks, vans and buses starting in the 2027 model year, the first update to clean air standards for heavy-duty vehicles in more than 20 years. Environmental advocates see this as a long time coming and still not enough—and the trucking industry is challenging the new regulations, claiming they are too onerous. We’ll see how things shake out for the trucks of the near future when the dust settles in this fight over regulations. 

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EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org.