Mack Trucks Win AF Hybrid-electric Refueling Truck Contract

Goal is to create a heavy-duty truck engine that runs on a combination of electricity and diesel fuel

Published: 09-Jan-2004

N class=text>Mack Trucks has won a $1.2 million government contract over 18 months to design a hybrid electric truck for refueling Air Force planes.

The Allentown company said it hopes to eventually apply the research to commercial vehicles, such as refuse and construction trucks made in its Lower Macungie Township plant.

The $1.2 million will go to engine research at Mack's powertrain plant in Hagerstown, Md., a company spokeswoman said Thursday. The goal is to create a heavy-duty truck engine that runs on a combination of electricity and diesel fuel.

Mack hopes to gain another $2.5 million for the research as part of the fiscal 2004 federal budget.

''This is a little test,'' said Jim Mele, editor-in-chief of Fleet Owner, a truck industry magazine. ''The federal government does it all the time to feed the efforts of alternative power. There is no clear-cut answer to alternatives at this point.''

While costing more than a conventional truck, the hybrid electric vehicle is anticipated by many in the industry to decrease particulate emissions by 90 percent, reduce smog-causing emissions by 75 percent and increase fuel efficiency by 50 percent.

Hybrid-electric technology has been slower to develop in trucks than in passenger vehicles because of trucks' heavy-duty nature and lower production volumes.

Jim Winsor, executive editor of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine, said that the refueling truck for the Air Force probably won't need much power because there's no call for speed on a runway.

Hybrid propulsion systems, less powerful than diesel, generally include a smaller internal combustion engine augmented by an electric drive.

The federal government has given contracts to other truck companies in recent months involving a combination with electric power:

Eaton of Cleveland in June was awarded a $3.1 million federal contract to develop hybrid propulsion systems for trucks.

Oshkosh Truck said in August that the Wisconsin company had developed a hybrid drive system for military and commercial trucks.

General Motors, having produced a military diesel hybrid in early 2003, entered the commercial sector in October. It began selling 213 buses in Seattle equipped with a hybrid system using diesel and electric motors.

''Hybrid technology has already demonstrated it can dramatically increase the fuel economy of cars,'' Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said in the Eaton announcement.

''Our goal through this important project is to achieve the same economic and environmental benefits for heavy commercial vehicles. In the process, we also make our nation more secure by reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil.''

Mele of Fleet Owner noted other alternatives are being explored by the truck companies.

The first is the development of clean diesel fuel, which is expected to satisfy 2007 emissions regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Next in popularity is engines using natural gases.

''On the far end of it is fuel cells with hydrogen,'' Mele said. Hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen's reaction with oxygen into electrical power without combustion. It emits only water vapor and heat.

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