Eliot Medina and his wife, Tanya, have decades of experience as over-the-road drivers for Tri-State Motor Transit Co.
But of late, they have been test drivers for a new Peterbilt truck that is unlike any they have driven in the past.
It and similar engines could save trucking companies millions of dollars while at the same time resulting in a cleaner environment.
“This truck has the new PACCAR engine in it,’’ said Eliot Medina. “It’s totally different than the Caterpillar engine we used before. And it gets about 2 miles more to a gallon of diesel.’’
Two more miles to the gallon might not seem like a lot, but to a trucking company such as Tri-State — which measures its annual driving in millions of miles — that’s huge.
“That’s a phenomenal savings on fuel,’’ said David Bennett, executive vice president of Tri-State. “We’re talking millions of dollars in some cases.”
“To date, our two PACCAR-powered trucks have recorded more than 100,000 miles with little more than routine oil change maintenance required,” he said.
These developments have precipitated a change of power at Tri-State.
The company for the past 10 years has depended completely on Peterbilt tractors with Caterpillar engines to power its fleet of local and over-the-road trucks. In light of the success with the new PACCAR engine, Tri-State has just ordered 12 of the new Peterbilt tractors.
One of the features of the new truck engines is an exhaust gas recirculation cooler, or EGR.
To reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions, the engine recirculates exhaust gas back through the engine, burning it in the combustion. That can reduce emissions by as much as 50 percent.
Some of the work building EGRs for the trucking industry has revved up business for a Joplin company.
Modine employees at the company’s plant at 3300 W. Seventh St. make EGR coolers, following a $25 million investment the company made in the Joplin plant beginning nearly four years ago. While the local company doesn’t make the EGRs for PACCAR/Peterbilt, it does make them for Ford, Navistar and Volvo trucks, as well as for trucking companies in Russia and China, said plant manager Jerry Retallick.
Depending on the models and the manufacturers, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the exhaust gas gets reburned.
After the $25 million investment, Modine grew the size of its Joplin work force from about 150 in 2008 to nearly 300 today to meet demand, Retallick said.
A different look
Medina said the new process has caused fundamental changes in the appearance of new Peterbilt trucks. Because the PACCAR engine is smaller than a Caterpillar, the grill is much smaller now, lending itself to a more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient shape.
Gone are the two exhaust stacks above the cab that signaled to motorists that a Peterbilt was coming down the road. They have been replaced by an exhaust system that is now below the cab. That change also contributes to better airflow and improved fuel efficiency, Medina said.
The trucks, which are outfitted with an automatic transmission, have two 100-gallon fuel tanks and a 20-gallon tank that holds diesel exhaust fluid. The fluid reduces engine wear caused by the recirculating of the exhaust gases. A tank of diesel exhaust fluid will last for 3,000 miles.
Caterpillar discontinued production of its over-the-road truck engines because its engines could not meet tougher emissions standards for nitrogen oxides that have been imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It was those regulations that led to the growth of Modine’s EGR business.
Caterpillar is now concentrating on its off-road and construction-vehicle markets.
That decision left Tri-State in the lurch, and Bennett said there was considerable uncertainty about what the company would do before the trials of the new Peterbilt tractor. The new engines have not only met the new EPA emissions standards, but have delivered the fuel efficiency that was promised.
Nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions from diesel engines contribute to acid rain and unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone and smog, which can cause severe respiratory problems. Diesel engines are used worldwide because they achieve better fuel economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions, while producing a higher level of power when compared to conventional gasoline engines.
“A lot of people used Caterpillar engines. They were powerful and long-lasting,’’ said Bennett. “This is a different set-up. With some engineering modifications, they were still able to use diesel. The PACCAR group, which owns Peterbilt and Kenworth, is one of the first in the industry to achieve that.’’
Bennett said Medina has managed to achieve a fuel efficiency as high as 8 miles to a gallon of diesel. The Caterpillar engines were delivering about 5.4 miles to the gallon.
“This was a pretty simple business decision,’’ said Bennett. “In this business climate, you try to save wherever you can. It will give us some spare cash that we can use for people and equipment.’’
According to recent federal estimates, more than 80 percent of all United States freight is transported by diesel-powered vehicles.
The turquoise color of Tri-State Motor Transit trucks, one of the nation’s leading carriers of explosives and hazardous materials, was first used in 1931. When a new truck is purchased by Tri-State, the truck manufacturer orders the patented paint from DuPont.