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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Can Brown Do For You

The United Parcel Service, or UPS, recently released video of a new big brown truck in its prototype testing phase.  At first glance, the truck in the video looks like any other UPS delivery truck.  However, the defining characteristic isn't in the aesthetics but in the material makeup.  The new truck is about 1,000 lbs lighter than the aluminum bodied truck due to its extensive use of ABS plastic.  By shedding that weight, The Big Brown Machine can use a smaller motor and be a whopping 40% more efficient.  This got us thinking about past environmental initiatives enacted by UPS.

Although in existence since 1913, 1989 would seem to be the turning point in the modern era for the United Parcel Service.  By taking a look at alternative fuels for their iconic trucks, UPS set a precedent for its future as an innovator of fleet driven businesses.  Their experimentation with compressed natural gas, CNG, has led to over 1300 of its current vehicles to be powered by the efficient fuel.  It's usage account for a 20% drop in emissions and a 10% increase in efficiency compared to the standard diesel truck.

While many consider electric hybrid technology as cutting edge, UPS has been experimenting with it since 1998 and ordered trucks in 2001 with the system.  They had the experience of billions of miles to recognize that hybrid systems are highly beneficial for the stop-and-go type of driving they do.  The money that has been saved on fuel by this hybrid system has also been reinvested by the company to further push the abilities of the technology.  Recent orders for electric hybrids have made use of lithium-ion batteries to further cut weight and improve fuel economy.  These types of batteries have only recently made it to the consumer market.

UPS also employs the use of hydraulic hybrid technology which isn't used by the consumer market.  First put into the field in 2008, this system is good solely for stop-and-go driving situations.  Here's a quick rundown on how they work.  Regenerative braking powers a pump that pushed nitrogen from a low pressure vessel to a high pressure accumulator when the truck slows down or comes to a stop.  When the need to accelerate occurs, the pump reverses its flow and send the nitrogen back to the low pressure reservoir via the mechanical driveshaft.

By thinking outside the box, UPS improved on the efficiency of its more conventional delivery trucks as well.  In 2004, the company changed all of its delivery routes to make 90% of their turns right turns.  This reduced the time that the truck sat idle while waiting for cars to clear before making a left turn.  This tiny change paid huge dividends in the long run.  The right turn strategy equates to a savings of over 28.5 million miles and 3 million gallons of fuel every year. 

UPS maintains a working fleet of close to 100,000 vehicles, 20% of which use alternative forms of energy.  They have shown that a company can be environmentally conscious and serve its customers without sacrificing quality.  It would seem that brown is the new green.

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