Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hybrid Technology for Trucks, Too

While we've all been focused on getting better gas mileage out of the cars we drive, or trading in the guzzler in the driveway for a green, fuel efficient hybrid, the automotive industry has been quietly and successfully turning out hybrid trucks.

Take Volvo. Garbage trucks aren't necessarily newsworthy, but Volvos's first hybrid refuse truck most definitely is. The truck division of the Swedish carmaker is taking an important step towards commercial use of hybrid technology for heavy vehicles by launching two hybrid refuse trucks that are being tested in regular daily operations, on refuse collection runs in the cities of Renova and Ragn-Sells.

Hybrid busses have been working the roads in cities around the world, including in my own hometown New York City. But this hybrid garbage truck is a first. "This is the last stage in the evaluation of our hybrid solution ahead of production launch," said Staffan Jufors, president and CEO of the Volvo Truck Corporation, launching the test drive. "Since we presented our first concept vehicle in 2006, we have seen considerably heightened market interest in this technology. What makes our solution unique is that it is sufficiently powerful to drive heavy vehicles, and more cost-effective than all other current alternatives. It is these characteristics that determine whether a hybrid can be commercially viable."

The phenomenal rise in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel in the last 12 months makes seals the deal, Mr. Jufors. That's why you also announced that Volvo will start producing hybrid trucks in 2009.

Volvo's hybrid solution combines a diesel engine with an electric motor, with the electric motor being used for moving off from standstill and for acceleration up to 20 km/h. At higher speeds, the diesel engine is activated. Just so you know -- Mercedes-Benz is studying diesel hybrids for passenger cars. Volvo already has the technology ready for trucks -- but I haven't heard anything about whether they are studying this alternative fuel possibility for passenger cars, too.

The hybrid refuse trucks are expected to use up to 20 percent less fuel and cut carbon dioxide emissions by a similar amount. Also, trucks can run the compactor off an extra battery pack that is charged when the truck is parked overnight. And that, my friends, further reduces emissions -- to a grand total of as much as 30 percent over conventional gas-powered trucks.

Electric power has the added advantage of being entirely exhaust-free and virtually noise-free. That's another important consideration for refuse collection trucks that usually operate early in the morning, waking up the neighbors. Eventually, Volvo plans to make hybrid trucks for long-haul and construction work.

What do you know -- a green garbage truck. What will they think of next!

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