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posted: 10/14/2016 1:00 AM

UPS to test unique hybrids in area

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  • Thanks in part to a grant from Drive Clean Chicago, UPS is putting 50 hydraulic hybrid trucks into service in the Chicago area as part of the company's push to fuel efficient vehicles. The first trucks hit the streets in late September and all 50 are expected to be running by year's end.

    Thanks in part to a grant from Drive Clean Chicago, UPS is putting 50 hydraulic hybrid trucks into service in the Chicago area as part of the company's push to fuel efficient vehicles. The first trucks hit the streets in late September and all 50 are expected to be running by year's end.

  • Mike Britt

    Mike Britt

 
 

Some of those ubiquitous big brown delivery trucks rolling through the suburbs will be soon be leaving a smaller carbon footprint.

UPS, with the help of a grant from the organization Drive Clean Chicago, is fitting 50 of its delivery trucks with a unique hydraulic hybrid system that will make the vehicles more fuel efficient. The global package delivery giant, which has regional freight centers in Palatine, Hodgkins, Franklin Park and South Holland, is testing the hybrids in Chicago as part of the company's "rolling laboratory" approach of finding technologies that help it operate more efficiently, according to Mike Britt, director of maintenance and engineering for UPS global fleet.

The Chicago market is ideal for the specific type of hybrid being tested, Britt said. Unlike the more common electric/gas hybrids, the system uses hydraulic pressure to propel the vehicle from a stop, saving the internal combustion engine from having to do the work. "An internal combustion engine on any hybrid works the hardest when it's starting the vehicle out," Britt said. "We take that heavy load away from it with the hydraulic launch assist.

"It improves the optimization of the engine, reduces emissions and does a tremendous job with fuel savings."

Think of it like those water bottle rockets you played with as a kid. When you pump air into the water bottle, it builds up pressure. When you released the seal, the pressure shoots out and pushes the rocket forward.

The hydraulic chambers can be pressurized manually or through a regenerative braking system on the vehicle, Britt said. That is one of the reasons the system is ideal for an area like Chicago, where the vehicles are constantly stopping and starting for traffic conditions -- as well as making constant deliveries.

"Our vocation is probably the most brutal when it comes to any type of equipment requirements because of the large number of stops that we do," Britt said. "That's how our business operates."

Britt also notes that fitting the system to existing vehicles also saves money over having to buy new vehicles, and it doesn't require creating a separate support infrastructure, like charging stations.

The first trucks hit the streets in late September and all 50 are expected to be running by year's end. Britt estimated the company's return on investment will be about one year.

Part of the funding came through Drive Clean Chicago, a $14 million incentive program aimed at accelerating the implementation of alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area. Funded through the Chicago Department of Transportation, the program provides financial assistance through three voucher programs for clean trucks and buses, taxis and infrastructure like CNG fuel or electric charging stations.

Local businesses that have taken advantage of the program include the Chicago Marriott O'Hare Hotel and Bolingbrook-based Quality Carpet Cleaning, according to the organization's website.

About 10 percent of UPS' global fleet are alternative fuel vehicles, according to Britt. In addition to the hydraulic hybrids, the company uses electric, hybrid electric and lightweight fuel-saving composite body vehicles. UPS trucks also use compressed natural gas, renewable natural gas, liquefied natural gas and propane.

"We like to work with different technologies in different areas, and whenever we have and opportunity for something to be commercially acceptable, we'll go ahead and test it," he said.