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How the Trump administration may benefit the trucking industry

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Fuels and lubes column

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Now that a new regime is in power in the U.S. government, what do we expect to see that will benefit the trucking industry? With a little help from our federal government, this nation may get on better economic feet.

First: infrastructure. Everything I read about newly appointed Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao says she will “make it happen, captain.” Her varied and successful background includes experience with banking, charitable organizations, government, and labor. I appreciated her stance that she will use data and science to reach conclusions, not emotion.

Chao seems likely to make proposals to get the infrastructure improvements started immediately. She has said that she foresees a mix of solutions, both public and private, as the key to quickly reworking our inadequate infrastructure.

What about GHG, NOx, and alternative fuels? I hope that fuel economy continues to be emphasized. The Federal Clean Power Plan is on uncertain ground, and the 2017 GHG standards might be too. However, most near-term regulations should remain unchanged.

I think the current emphasis on alternative fuels will change somewhat. The Department of Energy (DOE) recently let $7 million in grants to eight universities to study diesel and biofuel blends to create more efficient combustion. Earlier the DOE gave $18 million in grants to support plug-in electric vehicle research. If the Clean Power Plan is modified, I expect less emphasis on plug-in electric vehicles. I only hope college students will temper their conclusions with a little practicality.

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After all, electric vehicles are not “zero emissions” as most people claim. Power generation will slowly convert from coal to natural gas, and we will see more CNG, LNG and LPG fueled vehicles placed in service.

The natural gas refueling infrastructure is steadily increasing. Before long people will realize the time it takes to charge batteries compared to the time required to refuel a gas-fueled vehicle. Once they realize that, electric vehicles will become a niche solution, as they should be.

Corn-based ethanol will finally die what is, in my opinion, a well-deserved death, as cellulosic-based ethanol becomes more economically feasible. Poor fuel economy and corrosion issues will serve to severely limit ethanol’s use in commercial applications.

Energy content of alternate fuels will become more important as fuel economy constraints tighten. Vehicular weight significantly affects fuel economy in stop and go (P&D) operation. Of course, the kings of energy density in transportation fuels are (in order) diesel, biodiesel and gasoline with energy equivalents of 120-138 thousand BTUs per gallon. B20 biodiesel has 98% of the energy density of diesel.

CNG, LNG and LPG are next in efficiency with energy densities of 90-98 thousand BTU/gal. of gasoline equivalence. Ethanol and E85 have 73-80 thousand BTU/gal. energy densities. This means E85 is only about 70% as energy efficient as gasoline if substantial engine modifications aren’t made to partially recover the lost energy efficiency.

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I’m currently building a street rod that has to operate on E85 because of the engine’s higher compression ratio and the non-availability of 93 octane gasoline in my area. E85 limits my range to approximately 100 miles of operation instead of 150 miles with gasoline according to my calculations.

Of course, the EPA is now proposing lowering allowable NOx standards from 0.2 to 0.02 grams per brake horsepower hour in response to requests from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, parts of Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. This represents a further 90% reduction in allowable Nox emissions, and NOx levels are directly related to engine efficiency. This reduction, in the absence of a feasible NOx absorber, would greatly reduce fuel economy and increase GHG emissions. I hope this proposal dies on the vine, since I suspect it is more politically than scientifically motivated.

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