Proactively Protecting Hawaii's Climate

By G.C. Skipper, Contributing Editor | September 28, 2010
Lorne Fleming, Grace Pacific

Lorne Fleming (left), CEM, director of the equipment division of Grace Pacific, discusses emissions management of one of the units in the fleet with technician Ryan Shiver.

Lorne Fleming, Grace Pacific

Lorne Fleming, CEM, equipment division director for Grace Pacific in Honolulu, has implemented a pro-active strategy to manage fleet emissions among the 1,200-unit fleet.

Given that Hawaii's emission levels are among the lowest in the country and
that, in a recent study of 100 U.S. locations, Hawaii generated the least carbon dioxide of the areas surveyed, you'd think cutting fleet emissions would not be a high priority.

“Hawaii is 2,500 miles from anywhere, and one of the biggest sources of pollution we have is Kilauea, a volcano on the slopes of Mauna Loa,” says Lorne Fleming, CEM, director of the equipment division of Grace Pacific in Honolulu. “That volcano has been blasting since 1986, and it continues to inject mass quantities of noxious material into the atmosphere.”

Fleming is intensely pro-active in his efforts to control emissions in his mixed fleet of 1,200 units.

“Aina is a word Hawaiians use to describe their strong connection to the land,” he says. “Although emissions have a limited effect on Hawaii because of where we are, it's just something we need to do to take care of the world.”

With seven hot-mix asphalt plants on five islands, Grace Pacific is one of Hawaii's largest locally owned hot-mix asphalt producers and does about 70 percent of the asphalt paving work in the state. Hawaiian employees own about 40 percent of the company, and Fleming says it wasn't difficult to convince the company's managers and senior executives to reduce emissions in the fleet.

When two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants became available—one administered through the American Lung Association and one through Chevron—Fleming didn't hesitate.

“We identified five pieces of equipment that were probably most suited for engine change-outs—two Caterpillar 773 rock trucks, a Cat 992 wheel loader and two large stationary generators powered by Cummins engines,” says Fleming. “All of them had old mechanical fuel-injection systems and were pre-1993, so they essentially had no Tier-level engines.”

Three of the engines were Caterpillar 3412s, and Fleming replaced them with Caterpillar ACERT engines. With the two generators, it made more sense to replace them.

According to Fleming, Grace Pacific has traditionally been pro-active in environmental matters. For example, the company has an active spill-containment program.

“As part of our sensitivity to what is happening to the environment, we started cleaning up emissions three years ago,” he says. “It took about six months of planning to find out how we were going to reduce fleet emissions and what approach made sense. Then we started putting those plans into action.”

Those efforts are already showing results.

“It's always good to show people that what you have done has had an effect,” says Fleming. “One of the first things we noticed when we put our two rock trucks back into service was that the great black pall hanging over the quarry was gone. Because our quarry is below grade, air doesn't move through it well. When you put pieces of equipment under load, especially when the operator is accelerating uphill, exhaust belches out vast quantities of particulate matter. By the middle of the day, you could literally see a pall over the whole quarry. Now it's gone.”

The second change they noticed was that the rock trucks suddenly had the same work cycles as the newer trucks.

“We saw a benefit in power and in mileage,” says Fleming. ”Miles per gallon rose from 2 or 2½ to 4 or 5, and instead of running 14-minute cycles, the older trucks now cycle in 10 minutes, the same as the newer trucks.”

The only downside Fleming reports is complaints from the operators that the new engines are noisy compared to the old ones.

“They may be noisier, but the noise level isn't over the limit,” he says.

Another step Fleming has taken in his clean-up efforts is to stop equipment operators from excessive idling.

“Grace Pacific uses real-time GPS on virtually everything, and if a truck or piece of equipment idles more than five minutes, we shut it off,” he says. “I can sit at my laptop in the car or at my computer in the office and receive an alert that someone is idling more than five minutes. We shut the equipment off and, afterwards, have a conversation with the operator.”

Other steps Fleming has taken to decrease emissions are to burn only low-sulfur fuel in on- and off-highway equipment—which he says wasn't much of a challenge, because low-sulfur fuel is essentially all that's available in Hawaii—and retrofit equipment with after-treatment systems, such as particulate filters and/or oxidation catalysts.

“We're also working on crankcase emissions by recovering the oil, burning the vapors and returning any trapped oil to the oil pan,” he says.

Fleming is doing something else, too, but he is reluctant to talk about it.

“I hate snake oil with a passion,” he says. “I've had everyone from Tom Cruise to Tom Jones in my office promoting one product or another that is supposed to improve fuel economy. I've tried about a hundred of them and threw them all away.”

Until now, that is.

“We're using a fuel additive that has taken us from 3.8 mpg to 6.3 in some vehicles—same trucks, same usage and same amount of time,” he says. “We're not a for-hire trucking company. The only trucks we run operate internally. I've run a fuel economy analysis on 20 other trucks in the fleet, and they all show a significant increase in fuel economy using the additive. As I say, I hate snake oil and I don't know why this additive works. I can only tell you that it does.”

To convince OEMs and vendors to participate in what Fleming is trying to accomplish, he relies on the Equipment Triangle.

“We believe passionately that the vendor and manufacturer are our partners,” he says. “When we look to buy a new piece of equipment, I always bring in the vendor and the OEM representative and tell them 'We're buying your equipment and we're going to give you money. We expect you to be as committed to the success of that equipment and the success of Grace Pacific as we are. By buying your product, we're insuring you stay in business. You have to give us the same kind of commitment.' As a result, what few issues have come up have been addressed quickly and honestly.”

Fleming's message is clear.

“Fleet professionals should understand that one company can make a difference and that difference just might be good for everyone,” he says.