Green Wheels

Fort Wayne takes the lead in clean-vehicle technology in everything from service cars and pickups to an advanced truck-mounted jetter
Green Wheels
Flusher operator Jennifer Thurber, left, and flusher assistant Eric Exner use the city’s 800-HPR hybrid jetter truck with the ECO Jet system from Sewer Equipment Co. of America. (Photography by Karrine Williams)

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In Fort Wayne, Ind., city officials believe going green is an economic imperative — that making services and infrastructure eco-friendly saves energy, creates jobs and positions the city for growth. And with 1,700 vehicles under its control, the city’s fleet management department is an impact player.

In the past six years, the department, ranked as one of the greenest in the country by Green Fleet and Government Fleet magazines, has bought dozens of hybrid vehicles, adopted biodiesel fuels, and installed idle-reduction systems on nearly 100 trucks. The hybrids include a prototype Model 800-HPR Series 3 sewer jetter truck with an ECO Jet System, made by the Sewer Equipment Co. of America.

The new technologies save an estimated 300,000 gallons of fuel per year and are helping the department toward its goal of reducing overall fleet emissions by 50 percent by 2015, says Larry Campbell, fleet management director.

“It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge,” he says. “Mayor Tom Henry signed an executive order in 2007 that mandated a 1 percent reduction in fuel use fleet-wide by the end of that year, and another 5 percent by 2008. We met those targets.

“I can’t say we completely met the other goal, which is a 3 percent reduction every following year, because the reductions have leveled out. We can’t just go out and replace the entire fleet with hybrids. We have to fit them into a replacement cycle and make sure they fit the application for which they’ll be used.”


Front and center

The Model 800-HPR truck jetter is the department’s newest green addition. For now the only vehicle of its kind, the $200,000 truck rides on an International 4300 chassis with an Eaton hybrid-drive system, a 260 hp diesel engine, a telescoping hose reel that rotates 190 degrees, a 1,500-gallon water tank, and 2,000 psi/60 gpm water system.

“This is a concept vehicle, and our data will determine if they put the truck into mass development,” Campbell says. The drive system captures braking energy, converts it to electricity, and feeds it to batteries. The battery power assists the engine during driving and minimizes the need to idle while the truck is working.

“You push the PTO button and it turns on the jetter system,” Campbell explains. “Then the engine shuts down and the truck runs on the batteries. If the batteries run low, the motor kicks back on automatically and charges the batteries in about five minutes, then shuts down again. Any savings come from not idling while crews set up for jobs and from driving, not when we operate the jetter.”


Innovative approach

Representatives from Eaton, Navistar and Sewer Equipment collaborated to design the truck, which uses non-toxic hydraulic fluid and operates at 33 percent lower engine speed, reducing fuel costs and noise.

“I kept seeing hybrid aerial trucks at trade shows and wondered why we couldn’t do the same thing with a jetting truck,” Campbell says. “The initial roadblock was inadequate horsepower. The hybrid system alone only delivers 18 hp, and we need more than that for most jobs.”

To compensate, the truck’s engine kicks in to power the jetter when crews require full cleaning power. The truck hasn’t been in the field long enough to measure fuel or emission savings, although the specifications say it should use 30 percent less fuel in the hybrid mode.

“Our goal is to save 900 gallons of diesel fuel a year compared to the same non-hybrid unit, or 60 percent,” Campbell says. “Even with diesel fuel at $3.50 a gallon, that saves about $3,150 a year. We have three other trucks identical to this one that aren’t hybrid, so it’ll be easy to benchmark for comparisons.”


Grants defray costs

The city paid part of the truck’s cost with a $50,000 federal grant through the Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition, a state chapter of the national Clean Cities program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. That covered the $50,000 premium for a hybrid truck.

In fact, grants have been instrumental in paying for other hybrids. They accelerate savings by almost eliminating any payback period. The city won a $40,000 Clean Cities grant that covered the higher cost of a 2009 International 4300 hybrid dump truck with a 225 hp diesel engine and 5-ton dump body.

“We’ve been very fortunate to get grants to help pay for hybrid technology,” Campbell says. “Without those two grants, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the hybrid dump truck and jetter truck. All bigger cities are applying for grants, and I would highly recommend applying for them.

“As you can imagine, it’s very competitive. Only two cities in Indiana received any grant money in the last round. A lot depends on how well the grant request is written. It helped that the jetter truck is the first of its kind, as they’re always looking to advance and promote the newest technology.”

The dump truck achieved a 17 percent fuel savings during its first year, but now savings are closer to 10 percent because it’s used for a different purpose Campbell says.


Cars and pickups

As part of its initiative, the department has purchased 38 hybrid cars, SUVs and pickup trucks in the past six years. For use by inspectors, managers and engineers in the Water, Water Pollution, Street, Engineering and Traffic Engineering departments, the city has bought 26 hybrid Ford Escape SUVs since 2006. They average about 28 mpg in summer and 26 mpg in winter, versus about 8 mpg for the vehicles they replaced, which were mostly Chevrolet S-10 pickups and other full-size pickups. “They idled a lot,” Campbell says, and that drastically cuts fuel economy.

After fleet volume discounts and federal tax breaks available at the time of purchase, the hybrids cost about $5,000 more than conventional Escapes. Campbell estimates it takes three years to recoup the difference through fuel savings. “Each of those vehicles saves us an average of 680 gallons of gas per year, which comes out to about 17,680 gallons, for a rough savings of $52,300 a year,” he says.

One pleasant surprise: Maintenance costs, especially for batteries, have been much lower than expected. “Everyone looks at it and tells you the maintenance costs will be higher, but they’ve been very good for us,” Campbell says. “We have not experienced any battery replacements, so their life cycles have been very good. In fact, I’ve recommended them to other organizations throughout Indiana.”


Suitable applications

The department also runs five 2010 Ford Fusion hybrids with about a $5,000 price premium. “The pricing for Fusions was very good because Ford really wanted to get them out into fleets,” Campbell says. “We’re averaging 35 mpg, compared to about 12 mpg for the Ford Crown Victoria and Taurus vehicles they replaced. Much of the improved fuel economy has to do with driving habits.

“We don’t have any firm numbers yet on how much money the Fusions have saved us, but with the previous cars getting 12 mpg, we know we’re getting significant savings with the Fusions, which are driven an average of about 10,000 miles a year.”

The department also bought seven 2005 and 2006 GMC partial-hybrid pickup trucks, used by water and street crews. They haven’t been as fuel efficient as expected.

In considering hybrids, Campbell says it’s critical to match the vehicle to the application — not just buy a hybrid for its own sake. For example, Escapes were a good fit to replace pickup trucks for parking control employees, but not to replace engineers’ pickups, which carry road cores in the truck beds.

“If you carry those samples in the back of an SUV, they can fly forward during a sudden stop and pose a danger to the driver,” Campbell says. “We scrutinize every vehicle in many ways because utilization is very important.”


Cleaner, less idling

Another prong of the department’s initiatives is reducing truck idling. In 2006, the department instituted an idle-reduction program that relies on computer programs to shut off dump truck engines if they idle for more than 10 minutes. “We installed the computers mainly on 105 large diesel dump trucks, but we had to take some off, so now it’s closer to 80 in all,” Campbell says.

In the program’s first full year (2007), it saved 24,000 gallons of diesel fuel, which then cost about $2.55 a gallon, for $61,000 in savings. In 2008, the fuel cost about $3.07, and the department saved $74,000.

In addition, the department’s 298 diesel-powered vehicles use B20, a biodiesel fuel with 20 percent soybean oil and 80 percent diesel. The savings have not been significant because B20 has not cost substantially less. In fact, when diesel prices dropped last year, B20 cost up to 10 cents per gallon more.

“But part of that had to do with a federal blending credit of $1 per gallon that expired,” Campbell says. “Initially, biodiesel improved our fuel economy only fractionally — about six-tenths of a mile per gallon. But it’s still worth it because we know the emissions are cleaner, and using it makes us less dependent on foreign oil.”


Look ahead

Campbell says the department will continue its green initiatives, which could include electric vehicles if the application is suitable. “If they’re driven less than 80 miles a day, then they might make sense,” he says.

On the other hand, he expects technology to keep improving, so the dynamics of evaluating hybrid vehicles may shift. “What do I see in five years? I think we still want to be a developer of hybrids and plug-ins,” he says. “I think converting our entire fleet to hybrids is a pipe dream, especially with police cars, fire trucks and heavy equipment. The cost is way too high.

“But battery technology keeps getting better and better, so who knows? When I was a kid watching the Jetsons fly around, their world seemed far away. But how close are we now to being the Jetsons? Maybe not that far.”


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