Air & Tare The most shipped commodities on Earth!
Although our current transportation system is the most advanced it has ever been, it is fraught with inefficiencies and consumes more than twice the fuel and time than is required.
As an example, shipping an item today requires it to be boxed, labeled, in some cases palletized, placed in a container or trailer, and then transported.
Each step in this process adds additional weight, also known as tare, to the original item as well as increasing its volume.
Additionally, as displayed in the image above, the transportation mode itself adds tare.
It’s important to realize that both weight and volume determine fuel consumption in the shipping process.
Because a product’s volume is directly proportional to the overall weight of the equipment required to ship the product, increasing volume results in increasing fuel consumption.
In simpler terms, the product may only be a load of packaging peanuts, but if it requires 10 boxcars to transport, then the process will consume the fuel required to move those 10 boxcars plus the locomotive. All this cost is passed down to the customer.
In the following pie chart, we show a comparison between the 2.1 billion tons of freight moved by the 7 Class I railroad companies in 2019, and the total weight of the equipment required for this process.
Our calculations are very conservative and based on a “perfect conditions” scenario with a 0% grade and all boxcars filled to max weight capacity.
The results clearly show train empty weight accounts for at least 40% of the total, with the actual freight only making up 60%.
Consider that for a moment.
It could be argued that 40% of the fuel consumed by this mode of transportation is for the movement of the equipment alone.
How Grade Impacts Efficiency
The following pie chart utilizes the same data for the 7 Class I railroads but calculates for a 1% grade.
The steepest mainline grade in the US is Raton Pass, NM at 3.3%.
Most mainline grades in the US do not exceed 2% grade.
Notice how significantly an increase of just 1% impacts efficiency.
Just a mere 3 inches of rise in 100 feet of track, results in increasing towing resistance by a multiple of 4!
Fuel Consumption Comparison
Every mode of transportation has an empty weight (deadweight) component that must be included with the freight weight when calculating fuel consumption.
The cost of transporting this deadweight is also passed to the customer and is included in freight pricing.
Because of the lower rolling friction of steel wheels on steel track, lower grades and a more direct path, the railroad industry has long been considered the most efficient mode of ground transportation for cargo.
In the following pie chart, the total fuel consumption of 3.4 billion gallons for the 7 Class I railroads in 2019 is broken down based on the previous chart’s ratio of freight-tons to empty weight.
Again, these are very conservative numbers.
Real World Numbers
In a real-world scenario, more than 60% of the railcars making up a train will be loaded either below their max weight capacity or below their max volume capacity, or both. This significantly increases the equipment requirement and therefore fuel consumption.
As an example, in our “perfect conditions” calculations we only needed 21.1 million fully loaded boxcars to transport the 2.1 billion tons of freight, but the total number of cars used by the 7 Class I railroads in 2019 was an incredible 54.1 million!
Additionally, there are a myriad of variables that can significantly affect rail’s overall efficiency, such as:
- Curves in the track
- Railcar loading
- Traffic congestion
- Transit through high population zones
Curves and speed will have the same effect on efficiency as grade.
Precipitation causes loss of traction which decreases total pulling power and increases time and fuel consumption.
Traffic congestion and slowing for population centers results in loss of momentum.
What about Trucking?
We started this conversation using rail as our example because the scale of the equipment used for that mode of transportation provides a better visual representation of ground transportation’s inefficiencies.
However, when it comes to moving cargo, the trucking industry is considerably less efficient than rail, but far more utilized.
Generally, the trucking industry moves more than 72% of all cargo shipped in the US.
As an example, in 2019 the trucking industry moved 10.23 billion tons of freight verses the railroad’s 2.1 billion tons.
They consumed 45.6 billion gallons of fuel.
The following pie chart displays the breakdown between trucking’s freight-tons and the empty weight (deadweight) of the equipment required to get the job done.
These are conservative numbers as our calculations are for the use of Class 8 semi-trucks only. In reality, of the 37.9 million trucks registered in the US, only about 4 million are registered as Class 8.
Trucking Fuel Consumption
The following pie chart displays the breakdown of the 45.6 billion gallons of fuel consumed by the trucking industry in 2019 based on the previous chart’s percentages.
Again, the fuel consumed as a result of transporting the vehicle’s empty weight is nearly half of the total fuel consumption.
LTA enjoys efficiency superiority over all other forms of transportation for a myriad of reasons.
LTA utilizes the Earth’s atmosphere as its transportation infrastructure, which provides direct path access to all geographic locations with no land or water boundaries, no congestion and no maintenance cost.
Because buoyancy cancels the effects of gravity, there are no grades with which to contend. This is significant because it results in both weightless cargo and weightless tare.
And unlike all other forms of transportation, LTA can utilize the wind’s energy to reduce fuel consumption.
Lighter-than-Air technology will prove itself the most efficient and profitable form of transportation in the 21st Century, beating out all other modes in both time and fuel economy, and by providing an unparalleled passenger experience.
For more information about the concepts discussed on this page, we recommend viewing the following presentations on our “Pitch Deck” page: