UPS to Test Hybrid Vehicle in Detroit

The United Parcel Service, in conjunction with the EPA, has developed a new type of hybrid vehicle. Using a hydraulic system that stores up energy when the truck brakes, engineers have reduced fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. This summer, UPS will test the vehicle in Detroit. Kevin Niedermier of member station WKSU reports.

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The delivery truck that hauls your overnight package could soon be doing the job without the engine running half of the time.

A joint project between United Parcel Service and the EPA has led to a test vehicle that burns considerably less fuel because of an innovative hydraulic system.

From member station WKSU, Kevin Niedermier reports.

KEVIN NIEDERMIER reporting:

Pop a bottle of champagne...

(Soundbite of champagne bottle being uncorked)

NIEDERMIER: ...and the cork is sent flying on a stream of bubbly compressed air and liquid. It's much the same principle employed by this experimental UPS delivery truck.

Mr. KEVIN NEWMAN (Control System Engineer, Environmental Protection Agency): We're driving on stored energy now. And the engine will come on when it needs to based on the software we have running.

NIEDERMIER: EPA engineer Kevin Newman is wheeling the hydraulic hybrid prototype around the agency's vehicle testing facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This truck has an all-hydraulic transmission that stores braking energy and uses it to turn the wheels.

The EPA's John Cargle(ph) says this system is ideal for delivery vehicles that do a lot of stop and go driving.

Mr. JOHN CARGLE (Environmental Protection Agency): We're able to recover that energy hydraulically and store the energy in hydraulic tanks. Now, what's inside the tank is a bladder that's full of nitrogen, and when we pump automatic transmission fluid into that tank it pressurizes that bladder and becomes like a spring.

NIEDERMIER: This spring action gets the truck rolling without the diesel engine running. Cargle says if there's not enough braking to pressurize the tanks, the engine helps pump them up.

The Cleveland-based Eaton Corporation developed the hydraulic transmission. Eaton engineer Ben Hocksey(ph) says hydraulics are especially good at accelerating vehicles.

Mr. BEN HOCKSEY (Engineer, Eaton Corporation): Most of the energy used in a vehicle - the reason we have big engines in vehicles is to accelerate them up to speed at a reasonable pace, and then you only use a fraction of the power when you're going down the road.

NIEDERMIER: In lab testing, the truck registered a 70 percent fuel savings, with nearly half the emissions of conventional systems. That's very good news to UPS executive Mike Herr.

Mr. MIKE HERR (Vice President of Environmental Affairs, United Parcel Service): We put on the street every day about 91,000 vehicles. In 2005, we spent over $2 billion in fuel to drive those vehicles around.

NIEDERMIER: Herr says the company's public/private partnership with the EPA is crucial to development of the hydraulic hybrid transmission. And the government's effort behind the technology is welcomed by environmental watchdogs like Kevin Curtis, of the National Environmental Trust. But he says this type of freight delivery accounts for only about one percent of all U.S. oil consumption.

Besides voluntary development programs, Curtis would like to see the EPA be more aggressive in pushing for significantly higher mandatory fuel mileage standards for all vehicles.

Mr. KEVIN CURTIS (Vice President, National Environmental Trust): And then it's our hope that a combination of those - a mandated increase that gets everybody's attention. That really helps incentivize(ph) and produce more technologies, new technologies, like the one Eaton has developed. And also, quite frankly, creates a market for this sort of technology so that the Eaton Corporation and UPS can profit from their new developments.

NIEDERMIER: EPA researchers have tested hydraulic transmissions in a pickup and in an SUV, and there's hope that it will eventually be applied to other stop and go vehicles like urban busses, garbage trucks, and construction equipment.

Meanwhile, the UPS hydraulic hybrid transmission truck begins real-world testing on the streets of Detroit later this summer.

For NPR News, I'm Kevin Niedermier, in Cleveland.

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