Energy Efficiency in Transport
By Dr David Martin, Ecovector Consulting, 3 July 2006
The transport sector accounts for over 30% of the UK’s energy consumption by end users,
and is responsible for almost 25% of the UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide. Energy is
one of the largest operating costs for road freight companies, and for companies with car
and van fleet, fuel costs can also represent a significant burden on the bottom line.
Achieving energy efficiency in transport, is therefore, a high priority both for the
Government and for the private sector. Adopting cost-effective measures to reduce the UK’s
transport energy consumption, together with switching to low carbon fuels and vehicle
receives much attention from policy makers and companies alike. There is a wide range of
techniques, including management actions, operational planning and innovative
technologies that can be used to improve energy efficiency in transport.
This article provides a summary of some of these techniques.
The first step to more efficient fleet management is to understand the vehicle fleet
and its energy performance. Mileage patterns, fuel use and vehicle types need to be recorded.
Fuel performance can be improved by adopting simple measures involving the monitoring and
publishing of fuel performance results. This enables managers and their staff to assess
the energy efficiency of vehicle operations, and to identify areas where attention is
needed to improve performance.
Vehicle Design and Engineering
Specifying the right vehicle to make sure it is fit for its intended purpose is one of the
secrets to long term operational efficiency and reduced operating costs over the life of the
vehicle. A major factor in achieving maximum energy efficiency is having the most
suitable drive-line specification. Vehicle manufacturers can assist the purchaser in deciding
upon the best combination of engine power and torque, gearbox and drive axle ratios for the
particular vehicle operation.
Vehicle Maintenance and Operation
Excessive fuel consumption can be caused by poor vehicle maintenance and operation.
Problems can arise from faults such as:
Regular maintenance checks, through proper management and control procedures, should
form a key part of every vehicle fleet operation.
- Wheel misalignment, which increases tyre rolling resistance
- Tyre pressures below specification
- Brake drag
- Dirty oil or air filters
The influence of aerodynamics
Aerodynamic drag has a considerable effect on fuel consumption, particularly when operating
at motorway speeds. For a typical commercial vehicle, at a speed of 60 mph, about half the
power requirement from the engine is accounted for just to overcome the aerodynamic wind resistance.
Drag is dependent on a number of variables which include the frontal area and vehicle speed.
The shapes of most goods vehicles are a very long way from being streamlined, since they are
determined from other considerations such as ease of load handling, maximising load size within
legal constraints and ease of maintenance. However, it is possible to use bolt-on devices that
alter a vehicle’s shape and reduce drag. A guide to aerodynamic styling and how to maximize fuel
savings from any feature fitted to goods vehicles, together with case studies of successful use of
these features can be downloaded from the
Freight Best Practice web site.
Careful planning for both employee and commercial transport trips can cut down the
miles travelled and reduce fuel use. Managers should ask:-
- Are there opportunities to reduce the number of business trips?
- Can these opportunities be exploited without compromising the quality of service delivered to customers?
- What can be done to increase the share of consolidated trips or the use of public transport?
- How do the procedures for making travel arrangements need to be changed?
- What is the appropriate system for monitoring and targeting travel arrangements?
A travel plan is a package of measures aimed at bringing transport and other business users
together into a co-ordinated strategy, with an emphasis on reducing reliance on single-occupancy
car travel. Many organisations have introduced travel plans to encourage their staff, students or
visitors to travel other than by private car, thus reducing congestion, improving energy use in
transport and reducing pollution. Travel plans are principally designed to increase choice and
reduce dependence on the car and are specific to the location. They need to take into account the
nature of the business, existing alternatives, and the types of journey that the workforce makes.
Typically, the Plan will include measures such as providing cycle parking, offering discounted public
transport tickets, starting up a car sharing scheme, or encouraging people to work at home.
The Department for Transport publishes a Travel Plan Resource Pack for Employers which is
available to download from www.travelplans.org.uk.
Clean fuel vehicles
Different fuel types will provide different fuel and operational running costs and environmental impacts.
For cars and vans, diesel, compared to petrol, compared to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG),
compared to hybrid vehicle technology will all yield different results. Compressed natural
gas (CNG) is a possible option for commercial vehicles. Managers will need to assess the operational costs,
capital costs and availability of these different fuels before making investment decisions. The
Government is actively promoting new technologies involving low carbon fuels and vehicles via the
Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership and has published a
long-term plan via its
Powering Future Vehicles Strategy, which is available from www.dft.gov.uk.
This article has briefly examined the various ways in which fuel efficiency of commercial
vehicles, cars and vans can be improved. Simple checklists for routine attention to fuel
efficiency, which involve little or no additional costs, are given below:
Fuel efficiency checklist for the vehicle
Fuel efficiency checklist for the operation
- Are the tyres in good condition and at the correct pressure?
- Are the wheels correctly aligned?
- Is the fuel system free from leaks?
- Is the fuel system adjusted to the manufacturer’s recommendations?
- Are the oil and coolant levels correct?
- Is the oil of the minimum viscosity possible within the manufacturer’s recommendations?
- Are the air cleaners serviceable?
- Is there any evidence of the brakes binding?
- Is there any evidence of clutch slip?
In addition to these simple actions, there are opportunities for reducing transport fuel consumption
through the use of low carbon fuels and vehicles. The challenge to be met is for UK companies to
take advantage of the energy efficiency technologies identified here and to exploit the benefits of
reduced operating costs and improved efficiency that can result.
- Are the speed limits being adhered to?
- Is the engine stopped when parked or loading/unloading?
- Is advantage being taken of the various fuel economy aids which are available?
- Are the routing and scheduling arrangements designed to help fuel economy?
- Are the drivers instructed in the optimum driving techniques for the vehicle?
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