First Results

Why get excited about MorElectric?
By Richard LeFrancois, President, Equipment Maintenance Innovators
October 2004
In our last column, we introduced you to the MorElectric diesel truck program. MorElectric, developed by Argonne National Laboratory, Caterpillar, Kenworth, Emerson and Engineered Machined Products, removes accessories such as the water pump and HVAC compressor from the engine and makes them electrically driven. The reduced load on the engine should improve fuel mileage and improve engine life and performance. In this issue, we look at the early results of testing of Caterpillar's new "MorElectric" prototype engine, to see if it lives up to its promise.

“Test results showed that the fuel economy of the MorElectric truck improved by eight percent overall-two percent in over-the-road driving, and almost six percent from not idling the main engine overnight," says the program technical leader from Caterpillar, Dr. Marcelo Algrain.

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have found that trucks idling overnight put an estimated 7.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, 140,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 2,400 tons of carbon monoxide into our atmosphere.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), reducing engine idling saves over 600 million gallons of diesel fuel every year and reduces engine emissions equal to 15.5 million cars.

Researchers at Argonne have shown that, "By eliminating overnight idling, more than $2,000 a year per truck could be saved in fuel and engine maintenance costs."

Another benefit of the technology is addressing the reliability issue of components and vehicle maintenance. Those in maintenance know that, historically, the altemator and the HVAC air—compressor are two of the most problem—prone components on a heavy-duty truck. Plus, with environmental regulations addressing the HVAC we now usually need a certified technician to service the unit.

What is exciting about MorElectric is that this system eliminates the two separate heating and air-conditioning units found today on most trucks equipped with a sleeper cab. The Morelectric HVAC system is a "preassembled, precharged, and pretested module that eliminates up to 65 parts," according to the DOE. This system will allow for a much quieter sleeping environment for the over-the-road driver.

According to the DOE, "The resulting HVAC unit is five times more reliable and lasts up to three times longer than conventional air-conditioning systems."

David Orr, commercial manager, Caterpillar Electronics Business Unit, says this design "is one modular, hermetically-sealed unit with solid brazed lines much like the refrigerator in your kitchen." He goes on to say that "Today's HVAC units on heavy duty trucks have a built—in leakage rate of refrigerant which is the opposite design of our modern day refrigerator."

Another benefit, according to the DOT, is that "Electronically-driven HVAC modules also permit OEMs to relocate the condenser coil from the engine compartment to other areas on the vehicle in order to increase space under the hood and take the air conditioners thermal load off the radiator."

Dr. John Duffy, senior project engineer in Kenworth's Advanced Concepts Group says, "We believe that, in the future, electrically-powered components will make our trucks even more durable and that the increased efficiency will offer a quick payback. This is what the industry wants to see before investing in new technology such as this."

I couldn't agree more. Both truck and component OEM's are pushing for that "million mile truck." Attacking two very problem-prone components has to be a win-win situation for the owner, the driver and the environment in achieving such a lofty goal.

Stay tuned for more on this technology. I will be following a ten-truck test involving Caterpillar, International Trucks, and trucking company Cox Transfer located in Eureka, IL. Cox has agreed to equip five new International trucks with MorElectric technology and leave the other five outfitted with the standard components available today. I will be reporting later in the year on the results of this test.

Now, for you maintenance managers who would be considered "early adopters," MorElectric technology "is expected to become commercially available to truck OEMs and fleets nationwide in late 2005," according to the Department of Energy.