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Image courtesy of Blacktown City Council

Green Truck Partnership program update

Trial Status

Below you can find an update on some of our current Green Trucks Program trials:

  • B-Double tanker with vortex generators – Data collection and analysis for the baseline and trial periods is complete, and the draft case study is being reviewed. This trial complements previous vortex generator trials, providing a more complete picture of how the same equipment fitted on different truck configurations and used in different applications will produce varying results
  • Hybrid garbage truck – While waiting for the new hybrid truck to enter service, baseline data is being collected on a similar but non-hybrid truck. Unfortunately the technology provider now no longer supports this hybrid technology worldwide. Consequently this project is now on hold while we investigate if there are any other uses for the baseline data already collected
  • Low rolling resistance tyres – Suitable operations have been identified for tyre testing, and discussions are currently underway with candidate fleets and tyre suppliers
  • Driver training meta-study – “Driver training” appears self-evident. But beyond the physical activity of instructing someone lies a surprisingly wide spectrum of supporting measures that can help make the training more effective. This meta-study is intended to explain differences in supporting activities and provide guidance on the most effective combination to achieve fuel savings
  • Cancelled trials – It is common for some trials in GTP to not run to full completion. Despite the best efforts of all partners in research, planning, and even the start of testing, trials can be abandoned for a variety of reasons. In the current cycle, three trials have suffered this fate: a hydrogen combustion catalyst in two rigid trucks; an in-cab alert system to modify driver behaviour; and a new oil additive. While this obviously disappointing, one of the three trials may still proceed in the next GTP cycle

Image courtesy of Blacktown City Council

Recognition and outreach

The Green Truck Partnership has been actively engaging with new stakeholders to better connect our work, both in Australia and internationally. We recently joined the inaugural meeting of the global Smart Trucks Platform (STP) in Amsterdam, along with representatives from across Europe, the US, UK, Argentina and China.

Mark Gjerek (3rd from right) of GTP joins representatives of other nations at the Smart Truck Platform meeting, Amsterdam
Mark Gjerek (3rd from right) of GTP joins representatives of other nations at the Smart Truck Platform meeting, Amsterdam

The STP is an initiative of the Smart Freight Centre, a not-for-profit organization working to make the freight sector more efficient and sustainable. STP has a similar purpose as our program: helping road freight carriers find the right technologies and practices that are proven to work, to reduce costs and reduce emissions. STP will compile relevant technology information from different markets, develop tools and training, and help identify cross-over opportunities in market-specific truck programs.

Our “real world” test methodology was particularly interesting for some of the event participants, with a view to integrating real data into a predictive fuel efficiency tool or for modelling the impact of fuel saving technologies into different truck categories in which they haven’t yet been tested. The event was highly valuable for establishing a network of contacts, and GTP will continue discussions with a view to future collaboration with some of these international partners.

Closer to home, we have invited representatives from the federal government to join the GTP Steering Group to ensure our work at least recognises, and hopefully complements, any future national initiatives that may emerge from the Vehicle Emissions consultation process, the review of climate programs, and the National Energy Productivity Plan.

Special feature - connected and automated vehicles

It seems you can’t open any publication lately without finding another article about autonomous or driverless vehicles, and their potential to transform our transport systems. From motoring magazines and fleet newsletters, to financial papers, news and current affairs stories – there is a buzz about this technology beyond its nascent level of development. Vehicle manufacturers are spending billions of dollars in R&D, acquisitions, and transforming their business models. In Australia, the key industry body representing the sector says more than 70% of Australians surveyed want self-driving vehicles to take over at least some driving tasks.

Image courtesy of Peloton Technology
Image courtesy of Peloton Technology

But most of the excitement has focused on passenger cars – robot taxis to whiz us around while we work and play. That’s not altogether relevant to the freight context. So, we’ve skipped the regular news and policy section in this issue, to bring you a summary of what we think you might need to know about connected and automated COMMERCIAL vehicles. So, let’s start with a few basics.

Connectivity versus automation

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that at some point in the future, fully automated vehicles that don’t require a human driver will be on our roads. But driverless vehicles will not be thrust upon us in one giant leap. The technologies required for vehicles to operate without a human driver are already emerging today, albeit in their early stages (for example, intelligent cruise control that keeps a gap to the car in front, and automatic emergency braking preventing nose-tail crashes). As these and other technology capabilities improve and are demonstrated to be safe, they will allow the driver to relinquish increasing levels of control to the vehicle. The Society of Automotive Engineers has published internationally accepted definitions representing five levels of automation (SAE 2014), as shown in Figure 1 [1]. The classification system goes from zero to five; with zero representing no automation (full human control of all functions), and level five being fully automated in all conditions, all the time (no human input required).

Source: SAE International J3016 (2014)

Summary of SAE International’s Levels of Driving Automation for On-Road Vehicles. Source: SAE International J3016 (2014)
Click image to expand.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has published internationally accepted definitions representing five levels of automation (SAE 2014). The classification system goes from zero to five; with zero representing no automation (full human control of all functions), and level five being fully automated in all conditions, all the time (no human input required).

Along the path to fully automated vehicles, connectivity will become increasingly important. Vehicles are becoming an extension of our other digital devices such as smartphones, and integrating with our on-line environments through GPS navigation, wireless connection, USB ports, music streaming, social media and even work schedules (calendars, emails). And that’s just the start. In the near future, vehicles will also communicate with surrounding vehicles, infrastructure, traffic information, and (eventually) their origins and destinations (including carparks, event venues, public transport, service workshops, the office), and be able to predict and optimise our travel requirements.

The ultimate goal is to have these technologies working together in both connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) to reduce congestion, avoid accidents, inform and support drivers, and improve comfort and convenience. This integration is what is broadly termed Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS).

What’s the relevance to Green Trucks?

As driving automation increases, there is more opportunity to operate the vehicle in the most fuel-efficient way (think of it as the most efficient human driver employing all eco-driving techniques, combined with the engine and transmission in “eco” mode to maximise fuel savings).

Similarly, once vehicles begin communicating with each other, with infrastructure, and with the traffic environment, crash rates will fall, traffic flow can be improved and congestion will be reduced. Road assets can also be optimised through better utilisation (reduced maintenance, downtime) and better coordination of resources (trip pooling, car sharing).

While it’s possible to have autonomous vehicles without vehicle to vehicle connectivity (and vice versa), the greatest environmental benefits come from combining these technologies to accelerate energy productivity, reductions in carbon emissions and air pollution, and lower operating costs.

How real is this?

There is little doubt that vehicles are becoming increasingly connected, and will continue down this path. However, not everyone is convinced that the driverless revolution will arrive any time soon. While proponents point to rapid diffusion of other technology and devices, sceptics argue that motor vehicles are not low-cost consumable devices like a phone, and have a much longer service life. This long life means a slower rate of penetration to replace the existing fleet – which also results in a long period of sub-optimal interaction between human driven and computer driven vehicles.

It is also becoming increasingly clear that regulatory or liability aspects will most likely control the rate of diffusion of these new technologies, rather than the readiness of the technology systems themselves. Most manufacturers estimate they will have a Level-5 model commercially available around 2020-2022, with the most ambitious (e.g. Tesla) claiming a date as early as 2018/19. The National Transport Commission (NTC) suggests 2020 as the time that highly automated vehicles not requiring a human driver for at least part of the journey, will appear on our roads (NTC 2016) [2].

Nobody knows for sure what the ultimate situation will be, or when the point of mass adoption will occur. But a good indication of the significance and long-term prospects is the amount of investment being poured into the area by traditionally conservative vehicle manufacturers. Globally, investment is in the billions, including manufacturers expanding their business model by acquiring non-core ancillary businesses such as ride share services and mapping services.

Is anything happening in Australia?

Considering our car manufacturing industry is on its way out the door, Australia is a relative leader (or close follower) in connected and automated vehicle development. Companies from across the supply chain are staking their claim to what will become a massive future market that could be worth more than $90 billion. And, unlike the struggle to get supporting policy and incentives for low emission vehicles and alternative fuels, the states and federal agencies seem to be competing with each other to support research, trials, and new policy in this area.

Most states have an active project looking at issues along the connected-autonomous vehicle spectrum. The NTC has certainly been proactive in this space, bringing the broad issues into its strategic plan, releasing several discussion papers covering regulatory and planning aspects, and engaging with stakeholders to understand the main challenges. Austroads has also developed its own Cooperative ITS Strategic Plan, identifying actions it sees necessary across six key areas (Austroads 2012). [3]

Industry has also been driving the agenda, establishing the Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) as an industry group to help coordinate and advocate work in this area. Their work supplements that of ITS Australia who were instrumental in attracting the ITS World Congress to Melbourne (ITS 2016) [4] in October 2016 for a full week of technical presentations, site visits, demonstrations and a trade show.

As ever, cars have attracted most of the headlines and focus to date. Of more interest to GTP are the projects and insights related to commercial vehicles. The map below shows projects that focus specifically on trucks, buses or LCVs. A brief summary of the main commercial vehicle initiatives follows. GTP has commenced discussions with some of these initiatives to explore future collaboration opportunities, including ideas for future trials and access to data. Updates on progress will be included in future newsletters.

Overview of developments in Australia in connected and automated vehicle development.

Overview of developments in Australia in connected and automated vehicle development.
Click image to expand.

An overview of developments taking place in Australia in connected and automated vehicle development. Truck platooning is being trialled in Western Australia with benefits of up to 7.5% fuel saving and is fully supported by the Western Australian Road Transport Association, the WA government, Peloton and Telstra. In Western Australia there are also autonomous electric bus trials taking place. In South Australia one trial is testing an electric driverless shuttle at Adelaide airport which is moving passengers between the long-term carpark and terminal., while in NSW there are two projects taking place that are focussed on commercial vehicles. In the NSW Illawarra region, the Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative (CITI) operates under the Transport for NSW Centre for Road Safety, as a test bed for connected vehicle technologies focussed on improving road safety. The CITI project already involves nearly 60 trucks, 11 buses, and three intersections – with plans to expand to cover light vehicles and other geographic areas. The second NSW initiative resulted from the 2015 Premier’s Innovation Initiative with Australian technology company Cohda Wireless testing and demonstrating the potential of connecting over 100 trucks communicating directly with intersections along 3 corridors to improve traffic flow.

New South Wales

There are two main projects in NSW focussed on commercial vehicles. The Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative (CITI) operates under the Transport for NSW Centre for Road Safety, as a test bed for connected vehicle technologies focussed on improving road safety. The CITI project is based in the NSW Illawarra region and already involves nearly 60 trucks, 11 buses, and three intersections – with plans to expand to cover light vehicles and other geographic areas (TfNSW 2016). [5] Other partners include the national Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, and CSIRO’s Data61 group. One of the project’s objectives is to assess the realistic potential of C-ITS to reduce road trauma in an Australian context, given the wide range of claims in other countries (ranging from 7% to 80% or more).

The second NSW initiative resulted from the 2015 Premier’s Innovation Initiative. Australian technology company Cohda Wireless is testing and demonstrating the potential of connecting over 100 trucks communicating directly with intersections along 3 corridors to improve traffic flow (NSW 2016). It is intended as a proof of concept to validate the potential for freight signal priority (and vehicle-infrastructure communication more broadly) to reduce congestion in Sydney. [6]

South Australia

South Australia was the first state to allow on-road trials of autonomous vehicles. More recently, it announced the $10 million Future Mobility Lab Fund, initially covering seven projects to explore future transport opportunities in alternative energy and CAVs. One project will trial an electric driverless shuttle at Adelaide airport, moving passengers between the long-term carpark and terminal. Other projects include testing an autonomous shuttle at Flinders university campus; and using driverless cargo pods at the Tonsley Park research precinct (McCowen 2017) [7].

Image courtesy of ADVI

Western Australia

In our previous newsletter we covered news of an autonomous electric “Intellibus” operating on the streets of Perth, as part of a joint state government and RAC initiative. A subsequent announcement at the ITS World Congress in Melbourne then flagged a future trial of truck platooning in the state’s north. Truck platooning involves a group of digitally “connected” trucks travelling in close proximity, with one lead truck allowing the others in the convoy to relinquish human control as they become part of the group in a virtual train. Project partners include Telstra, US-based automated and connected vehicle technology company Peloton Technology, ADVI, the Western Australian Road Transport Association, and the WA government.

The goal of the platooning trial is to realise the potential economic, social and environmental benefits. Peloton believes the system will allow two trucks to save an average of 7.5% in fuel (Dinham 2016) [8]. The company will roll out the system to commercial fleets across the US this year.

Image courtesy of ADVI

[1] SAE. (2014). Automated Driving: Levels of Driving Automation J3016, SAE International, 2014, https://www.sae.org/misc/pdfs/automated_driving.pdf

[2] NTC. (2016), Regulatory Reforms for Automated Road Vehicles, NTC Australia, November 2016, https://www.ntc.gov.au/Media/Reports/(32685218-7895-0E7C-ECF6-551177684E27).pdf

[3] Austroads (2012), Cooperative ITS Strategic Plan, Austroads, 28 August 2012, https://www.onlinepublications.austroads.com.au/items/AP-R413-12

[4] ITS. (2016). ITS World Congress, ITS Australia, 2016, http://www.itsworldcongress2016.com/

[5] TfNSW. (2016). Cooperative Intelligent Transport Initiative, Transport for NSW, 2016, http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/research/roadsafetytechnology/cits/citi/index.html

[6] NSW. (2016). Premier’s Innovation Initiative, NSW Government, 20 December 2016, https://www.nsw.gov.au/improving-nsw/projects-and-initiatives/premiers-innovation-initiative/

[7] McCowen, D. (2017). South Australia Locks in Driverless Vehicles, Drive.com, 22 March 2017, http://www.drive.com.au/motor-news/south-australia-locks-in-driverless-vehicles-20170321-gv2yz4.html

[8] Dinham, P. (2016). Telstra Joins Industry Initiative to Explore “Truck Platooning” benefits, IT Wire, 12 October 2016, https://www.itwire.com/strategy/75220-telstra-joins-industry-initiative-to-explore-%E2%80%98truck-platooning%E2%80%99-benefits.html

Image courtesy of TIC

Green truck sales at record lows

Research by GTP has been tracking sales data for low emission vehicles across several market segments, to build a picture of adoption rates for low emission commercial vehicles. The results reveal a bleak picture about the decreasing popularity of LPG, natural gas, Hydrogen, hybrid and electric technologies in the truck and light commercial vehicle segments. Sales data generously provided by the Truck Industry Council covering trucks above 4.5 tonnes is shown in the graph below (in blue), alongside sales of similar light commercial vehicles (in green) based on data from FCAI. In both cases, the sales are presented as a percentage of the overall sales in those market segments.

It is clear that sales of LCVs equipped for alternative fuels once represented around seven per cent of the total LCV market, mostly based on LPG vans and utilities. But the subsequent decade shows all alternative fuels and advanced technologies (including hybrids), trending toward zero share.

Meanwhile, in the truck market above 4.5 tonnes, alternative fuels barely got a foothold beyond 1%, before falling progressively to just a few units per month.

Is this simply a matter of low diesel prices making alternatives uncompetitive? Possibly, but other factors are likely to be just as significant, including a lack of incentives for early adopters, limited availability of suitable models, lack of supporting policy or targets for low emission vehicles, and the characteristics of our market (dominated by small operators and a low appetite for risk).

GTP has been raising awareness on this issue for some time, and it is understood that governments at different levels are now looking at the situation. We are also working with the bus industry to compile similar data, and it will be interesting to see where that sector is headed given the large number of gas-powered buses on the roads. We’re also looking overseas to compare sales trends for low emission vehicles to ours. Watch this space for a follow-up story.

Image courtesy of TIC

Alternatively fuelled and powered vehicle sales by segment

The above chart shows alternatively fuelled and powered vehicle sales by segment.

Nikola update

Green Truck Partnership’s second newsletter featured Wrightspeed’s flexibly-fuelled microturbine hybrid powertrain. Since then, American start-up Nikola has emerged, wishing to become the “Tesla of Trucks”. It’s plug-in EV architecture was also envisioned with a microturbine range extender. However, recent developments have seen it’s State-side offering ditch the turbine in favour of a hydrogen fuel cell. Fundamentally re-engineering a truck drive train is no small task, but to keep their engineers extra-busy, their plans also include upstream renewable hydrogen production facilities, cryogenic liquefaction, road tanker distribution, and no less than 364 refuelling stations.

While Nikola’s plans in this space are perhaps the most ambitious, they are by no means alone. Established players such as Daimler, MAN, Tesla, Mack and BYD are known to be looking at plug-in trucks, with Toyota the latest contestant to join. Announcing an investigation of fuel cell trucks in California shows Toyota’s staunch hydrogen support isn’t restricted to light vehicles. Is this the first signs of the long-predicted hydrogen economy gaining traction in the freight space?

This may all sounds a bit far-flung, but it’s worth noting a done-deal will see a pilot plant convert Latrobe Valley’s brown coal into hydrogen, before it’s liquefied and shipped to Japan, via a prototype carrier developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Newly developed marine safety standards will regulate these unprecedented bulk shipments.

Image courtesy of chargedevs.com

More cities announce their defection from internal combustion

Further to our previous story on cities outlawing fossil fuel cars, comes news that around a dozen major cities (including London, New York, Los Angeles and Mexico City) plan to stop buying diesel buses by 2020. Some are going further, by banning all diesel buses on their city streets by 2025 (London.gov 2016a) [9] (Hydrogenlondon.org 2016) [10] (Morris 2017). [11]

The bus sector is perhaps the most obvious candidate for this kind of action – driven as it is by government contracts to increase mobility while minimising negative environmental, social and economic impacts. However, this rapid escalation against fossil fuels needs to be watched for its potential impact on trucks as well. It is not too much of a stretch for bus requirements to spread to trucks, given the extent of shared technology and components between them.

Air pollution is the main factor driving such extreme action overseas (London.gov 2016b) [12], but Australian cities have been fortunate enough to not face this issue to the same extent as some of the cities mentioned above. However, initiatives like low-emission zones that outlaw or penalise particular kinds of vehicles also bring other benefits beyond cleaner air – for example, reduced congestion. So, while there are no immediate (public) plans to introduce congestion or low emission zones in Australia, there may be multiple justifications in the future as urban congestion and pollution worsen with increased populations.

Regardless, it will be certainly be interesting to see how the development and widespread adoption of these low emission buses might affect their availability and commercial viability, and their potential adoption by transport agencies in Australia. Keep an eye out for the next Hydrogen or electric bus near you.

Image courtesy of chargedevs.com

[9] London.gov. (2016a). Sadiq to stop buying "dirtiest" diesel buses and unveils hydrogen bus, Mayor of London, 30 November 2016, https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/sadiq-to-stop-buying-dirtiest-diesel-buses

[10] Hydrogenlondon.org. (2016). Mayor of London to stop buying 'dirtiest' diesel buses and unveils hydrogen bus, 30 November 2016, http://www.hydrogenlondon.org/news/mayor-of-london-to-stop-buying-dirtiest-diesel-buses-and-unveils-hydrogen-bus/

[11] Morris, C. (2017). London to phase out dirtiest diesel buses, unveils hydrogen bus, chargedevs.com, 13 January 2017, https://chargedevs.com/newswire/london-to-phase-out-dirtiest-diesel-buses-unveils-hydrogen-bus/

[12] London.gov. (2016b). Mayor welcomes ruling that Government has broken law on air quality, Mayor of London, 2 November 2016, https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-welcomes-high-court-ruling-on-air-quality

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