Truckers go green, save gas money

To cool off inside his cab, North Carolina truck driver Ken Kafer hooks up his rig to a contraption that looks like a giant exhaust pipe for a clothes dryer.

Besides air conditioning, the yellow hose funnels TV and even Internet connections through a window into his cab at a truck stop. The best part, Kafer says, is that he doesn't need to keep his diesel engine on.

So-called “electrified truck stops,” along with on-board tools such as auxiliary power units, have drawn interest from some truckers in part to reduce pollution and engine grind from idling and abide by a growing number of anti-idling guidelines nationwide.

But lately, drivers like Kafer have increasingly turned to them to also save money with fuel prices at record highs.

“I'm saving fuel, engine wear, and I'm getting all the comforts that I need,” said Kafer, 42, of Hubert, during a break at a truck stop in the central Pennsylvania town of Milton on a recent Iowa-to-New York run.

Jim Runk, president of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association, said many truckers are using such options now because fuel prices are at a point where “they just can't put up with it. … No question. That and the clean air issue.”

Environmentalists have long been critical of the pollution emitted by diesel engines, with tractor-trailers among the most common and most plentiful source of soot.

A report from the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group, estimated in 2005 that the lives of 21,000 Americans were “shortened” by particle emissions from diesel engines.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 established new rules, including the introduction of cleaner highway diesel fuel in 2006 and new requirements for the manufacturing of new truck engines starting in 2007. Once fully enacted, the rules could lead to a reduction in 2.6 million tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and prevent 8,300 premature deaths, the EPA has said.

After some initial pushback from the industry, most truckers are on board with the changes. There's even more impetus these days with diesel prices pushing $4.70 per gallon.

Many companies have turned to installing auxiliary power units, which allow drivers to have heat or air conditioning inside the cab during rest breaks without having to run the engine – using just a fraction of the fuel used otherwise.

Trucker Marlin Burkholder, 45, of Richfield, Pa., uses the auxiliary power unit to keep the H.F. Campbell & Son Inc. cab comfortable while reading or napping if he has to wait a while for a load.

But the units can be costly. Burkholder's boss, company president Frank Campbell, had each of his 50-plus trucks outfitted with the roughly $8,000 power units within the past two years.

“With the price of fuel going out of this world, it affects what you do,” Campbell said. “If you're not staying even, you're losing ground.”