Light weighting: how much can it actually save on fuel costs?

In light of the recent EU proposals to cut CO2 emissions by 15%, increasing numbers of small and medium-sized haulage companies are looking at ways to reduce weight and save on fuel.

The targets, ordered by the European Commission on 17 May 2018, include a mandatory 15% reduction in CO2 emission from trucks by 2025, and at least a 30% decrease by 2030.

Research shows that reducing the weight of heavy-duty vehicles by 10% can lead to a 5.5% improvement in fuel economy and vastly lower carbon-dioxide emissions.

Weight reduction methods include substituting standard trailer panels with lightweight materials including honeycomb and/or Styrofoam cored alternatives.

Thermhex is a polypropylene honeycomb core material and is a lightweight alternative to plywood. Styrofoam has been used for many years in the construction industry and as an insulating core in temperature-controlled vehicles. Recent EU legislation changes have resulted in changes to blowing agents, meaning Styrofoam will be phased out and replaced by Xenergy.

Data shows that a typical 100-truck fleet would save around £76,000 a year in diesel costs by reducing 2,500 lbs of weight per truck.

Heavy plywood core panels are used as the sides and floors of many dry freight vehicles —used to deliver solid dry goods such as grains, steel products and other raw materials. However, firms are now looking to lightweight alternatives such as Thermhex, which features a polypropylene honeycomb core.

A spokesman for panel and insulated building products supplier Panel Systems said: “There is an increasing need to reduce the weight of trailers and in turn improve efficiency. Thermhex and Styrofoam are being used more regularly to manufacture vehicles instead.”

“When you are talking about the big areas of a truck side and roof, this would be extremely advantageous for saving weight. It goes without saying that there would be significant fuel savings.”

Refrigerated transport, which are used to deliver chilled items, tend to be built with extruded polystyrene in the core to keep it cool and with aluminium and GRP for the faces of the truck.

“They’re already light weight panels but there may be components within the vehicle body construction that is made of plywood that could be replaced with Thermhex,” Danny said.

The caravan industry is also seeing a move to Thermhex, replacing plywood wall linings in several leisure vehicles.

The spokesman added: “Most caravan manufacturers use extruded polystyrene in floors because of its high compressive strength. But within the walls they tend to use the expanded polystyrene because it doesn’t require to be as structural as the floors do.”

“Vinyl wallpaper within caravans would normally be laminated on to plywood, but to reduce weight it can be laminated on to Thermhex. You can only imagine how much weight that saves with the number of walls in caravans.”

The growth of CO2 levels in the atmosphere has spurred the recent proposal, which will add to other EU climate goals including The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 and the Energy Union strategy.

The CO2 emissions and fuel consumption performance of heavy-duty vehicles registered in the EU will, for the first time, be monitored and measured by data provided by authorities and manufacturers.

Transport companies will be able to gain access to the standardised information in order to compare different models of high-duty vehicles and lower fuel costs, which reportedly takes up around 30% of a hauler’s costs.

This information will also be available for public access, excluding cases that must protect private data and where fair competition must be guaranteed.

The rise in transparency is aimed at encouraging manufacturers to develop more economical vehicles, as well as helping the environment by decreasing CO2 emissions.

However, this policy has been deemed unrealistic from truck manufacturers, who say a 7% CO2 reduction target by 2025 would be more achievable, expressing concerns that heavy fines may be placed if goals are not met.

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