We hear the phrase “we’re all in this together” a lot these days. And that certainly applies to preserving our precious natural resources. This week, we see how those with the longest ties to our natural history are taking bold steps to ensure a clean future.
The Cherokee nation is located in a 9,000 square mile area of northeastern Oklahoma. Unlike other reservations, Cherokee tribal land is checkerboarded in and around state jurisdictions, and Cherokee citizens are very much a part of the local communities. So maintaining their own civic infrastructure and preserving Cherokee culture while keeping pace with modern society is a vital task.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr.: "Well, our belief, and it’s one that’s held our people together for generations, is that we look seven generations into the future. We look at what our actions today are doing for generations from now. And I think in the world we live in today, it’s important to reduce our carbon footprint, to look for avenues to explore green energy, and I’m standing next to our solar canopy, which is one of our key initiatives to meet that objective, reduce that carbon footprint -- think ahead to future generations, make sure that this reservation that we’re on right now, is going to be clean and pristine. Hopefully cleaner as we go by, thanks to these kinds of initiatives for generations into the future."
The Indian Nations Council of Governments is also home to the Tulsa Area Clean Cities Coalition, easing the way for the Cherokee Nation and other tribal partners to team up through clean cities on a number of clean vehicle projects.
This solar canopy, completed in 2017, currently houses eight, free, public level 2 electric car charging outlets at the Cherokee Nation's main administrative complex.
It generates up to 58,000 kilowatt-hours per year and augments grid power supplied to the buildings when not used for charging vehicles.
When it was installed, there were actually very few electric vehicles registered in the area, but in a classic case of “build it and they will come,” the local EV population, and demand for charging, has grown rapidly.
Chad Hasha: "Since we’ve installed this canopy, we’ve seen both the number of electric vehicles utilizing it increase. Actually we have to increase the number of stalls available. And we have also since that time purchased a number of electric vehicles to supplement our tribal fleet operations."
Once complete, the solar site’s electric vehicle charging capacity will be doubled to 16.
The Cherokee Nation’s EV Initiative also includes four DC fast chargers and additional level twos, installed or planned for tribal lands throughout the area, as well as a significant investment in public transportation.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr.: "We have an electric school bus here in the Cherokee nation, I think it’s the first in the region, and we have some electric transit buses, which we think are the first for a rural-based transit system in the United States."
With just 2000 fluent speakers remaining, attrition of tribal elders through natural causes and from the COVID pandemic losing many tribal elders to COVID has threatened the very viability of the Cherokee language for the future.
This electric school bus transports students in the Cherokee Nation’s groundbreaking language immersion program, where new generations of native speakers are being trained to teach others and keep this vital link to the past alive.
These newly-arrived Proterra electric transit buses carry bilingual signage throughout the interior to act as teaching tools, and as a reminder to all of the importance of not just preserving, but continuing Cherokee traditions.
Chuck Hoskin, Jr.: "If you go elsewhere in the reservation, you’ll see community organizations that are really the hub and the lifeblood of these little communities that again have existed since before the state of Oklahoma was here."
We have to connect people, from home to work and home to health centers. Doing that in an environmentally sustainable way is important, and these transit buses are a big part of that.
And there’s a little bit of a teaching moment about where does energy come from, how do we harness something like the sunlight to power this little community. So, these sorts of things, I think are sparking some interest among young people, which is of particular interest to me, because they’re the ones who are going to take on leading this nation in the future.
Heavy duty trucks transport about 70% of our goods and materials around the country and account for 10% of all miles driven on US highways. The bad news is, most big rigs travel about 6 miles per gallon of fuel, so the need to improve truck efficiency is more crucial than ever. Well, the US Department of Energy has come up with a way to find those answers.
Kicking off in 2010 and now entering its third iteration, SuperTruck is a Department of Energy-funded research program aimed at helping truck makers achieve ambitious gains in freight efficiency, or ton-miles per gallon, for the next generation of big rigs.
SuperTruck 2, which is now wrapping up, focused on diesel engines, which still, and will, power most trucks for the near future. Several teams were able to incorporate 48-volt mild hybrid systems to enable idle reduction, power the hotel loads, or driver comfort systems, and convert belt-driven accessories, like steering, to electric power, eliminating drag on the engine for more efficient operation. SuperTruck 3 will explore electric and fuel cell power trains over the next few years.
DEREK ROTZ: “As we move forward into research, we’re looking into zero emissions, and the benefits of working with the Department of Energy is not only getting a– a 50/50 cost share to allow us to share the resources on these high risk/high reward technologies, but it also opens us up to the possibility to work with the national lab systems, the university systems, and those folks that have been looking at those cutting edge– edge technologies for years.”
The result has been a super-charged R&D effort that is already paying huge dividends. One SuperTruck 2 team has achieved 16 miles per gallon, 10 more than the current on-road average, and all are on track to surpass the 100% freight efficiency goal, some reaching as much as 170% improvement.
DAREK VILLENEUVE: “We’ve looked at all aspects with an eye towards production. We don’t want to develop things off in a science box that had no means, we really want to look at things that did have a good chance for production.”
Looking at all of these futuristic designs, it’s obvious that lightweighting and aerodynamics play a big part. Technology like rearview cameras and extensive wind tunnel testing has found ways to make the big box less boxy, minimize body gaps, and improve airflow.
KEITH BRANDIS: “When you look at aero, it takes a number of factors that we have to stretch, if you will, and that was the whole purpose, was to see how far we could go with extreme aero, and you’ll see all the skirting along the side of the vehicle, but also to lower the vehicle and use low profile tires, to eliminate the amount of air that builds up around the front air dam.”
Both Peterbilt and Kenworth’s extreme aero designs build around a center seating position to allow a narrow nose. While Navistar’s sleek rig includes a curved trailer roof to maximize clean airflow across the full length. With aerodynamic gains now almost exceeding the realm of what’s possible, looking forward the R&D focus will shift back to the power train, and the target of zero emissions.
DEREK ROTZ: “So… So, decarbonizing commercial vehicles is no easy task. Uh, we’ve been at diesel for over a century now, we’ve kind of perfected it. Going into these zero emissions technologies is a whole new field, so–so it’s learning about new technologies, new technical fields such as electro-chemistry, um, things like that are new to this industry, and those are some of the barriers we need to be able to overcome.”
Here is where collaboration and innovation come into play. All of these manufacturers are up for the challenge and optimistic that zero-emission trucks will be viable not too far down the road.
MAARTEN MEIJER: “Solutions that we see as opportunities are the fuel cell electric vehicles, the hydrogen combustion engine vehicles, and the hybrid powertrains using the more traditional diesel engine concept, but switching to an e-fuel approach.”
So, what’s the bottom line of all this effort? Supertruck-developed technologies can save nearly 6 billion barrels of oil by 2050. To the average truck owner, that could ring up $35,000 a year in fuel savings! And that adds up to environmental and financial savings that benefit all of us in the long haul!