Developing a “Living Lab” To Study Energy-Efficient Logistics

Troy, N.Y. — The transportation sector is one of the largest consumers of energy. The energy consumption of the freight sector is growing faster than the overall sector, according to researchers. This is the case of light trucks and medium/heavy trucks that consume 32.1 percent and 22.7 percent of the energy consumed in the sector. To address this, energy agencies throughout the world have fostered the use of novel engine technologies and fuels, and improved fuel consumption standards. In addition, with the intention to gain real-world experience to improve transportation efficiency, the Department of Energy announced that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is among five organizations that received competitively awarded, cost-shared funding as part of a $13.4 million investment in community-based advanced transportation projects.

Rensselaer will receive $2 million—in collaboration with private sector companies and local transportation agencies—to foster changes in freight demand patterns to reduce energy use, enhance quality of life, improve economic productivity, incorporate efficient practices into freight logistics, and publish lessons learned.

“This initiative represents a visionary investment in energy and transportation infrastructure in our region and beyond,” said Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20). “Public-private partnerships like this one are well-positioned to harness our region’s leadership and further cement our status as a hub of technological development and transformative innovation. The work that emerges from this collaboration will foster groundbreaking developments in advanced freight transportation and advanced manufacturing, enhance resiliency in the face of disaster, strengthen our local and national economic competitiveness, and help us build a 21st-century workforce. Congratulations to all involved and special thanks to RPI for their outstanding leadership.”

In addition to Rensselaer, other recipients include: Pecan Street Inc. based in Austin, Texas; City of Seattle Department of Transportation; Center for Transportation and the Environment in Atlanta, Georgia; and the Metropolitan Energy Center Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri. The five cost-shared, community-based projects focus on energy-efficient mobility systems including connected and autonomous vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure including natural gas, propane, biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.

The projects will serve as “living labs” to test new ideas, collect data, and inform research on energy-efficient transportation technologies and systems.

The Rensselaer project, titled “Collaborative Approaches to Energy-Efficient Logistics in the Albany - New York City Corridor,” features a collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, George Mason University, and multiple public and private-sector organizations operating in the Albany and NYC regions. The project will be led by José Holguín-Veras, the William H. Hart Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment (CITE) at Rensselaer.

“The chief tenet of this project is that achieving energy-efficient logistics requires a profound behavioral change of supply chains that could only be accomplished if private and public sector work together,” said Holguín-Veras. “The key is to implement changes in behavior that lead to energy savings in the operations of not only freight carriers, but receivers, suppliers, and ultimately, the general public who may influence supply chains. Achieving this goal requires the design and implementation of data-driven research and the use of collaborative public-private-sector approaches, to change urban supply chains for the better.”

According to Holguin-Veras, the Albany – New York City living lab will fully exploit behavior-based research approaches developed by the team during the NYC Off-Hours Delivery project to reduce the energy consumption of freight activity; and design and pilot test Energy-Efficient Logistics (EEL) initiatives to simultaneously reduce energy use and emissions, increase profits, and improve quality of life.

“This high-priority ‘living lab’ work will focus on the vital, yet often neglected, freight sector, with an innovative approach that will yield significant reductions in energy use,” Holguín-Veras said. “A powerful feature of the operational concepts developed by RPI’s research are their business-friendly nature. Thus, the private sector will be an ally.”

Pilot testing will take place within the living lab’s study area—the NYC metro area, the Albany region, and the 150-mile freight corridor that connects them. Holguín-Veras noted that NYC is a dense megalopolis with heavy congestion and multimodal transport, and that these areas are interdependent and linked by rail, waterways, and trucking. According to the research team, the conditions in the study area represent the needs of large and mid-size metropolitan areas, those most in need of innovative EEL initiatives, and also offers ideal conditions for an influential living lab.

The research team led by Holguín-Veras exemplifies the vision of The New Polytechnic, an emerging paradigm for teaching, learning, and research at Rensselaer, the foundation of which is the recognition that global challenges and opportunities are so great they cannot be adequately addressed by even the most talented person working alone. Rensselaer serves as a crossroads for collaboration — working with partners across disciplines, sectors, and geographic regions — to address complex global challenges, using the most advanced tools and technologies, many of which are developed at Rensselaer.

“The research connected to this project translates to the real world and brings great value,” said Jeffrey Wojtowicz, senior research engineer in the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment at Rensselaer, who will be working on the project. “The team’s research has shown that restrictions imposed by shippers and receivers—in terms of sizes, time, and frequency of delivery—create large inefficiencies on the carrier operations that increase energy consumption, operational costs, and emissions. Changing the behavior of shippers and receivers to improve efficiency of transport is essential, especially as we look to collaborate and bridge the gap between NYC and Albany.”

Some of the chief outcomes of the project will include the development of a policy guidebook with a detailed catalog of EEL initiatives and policy measures that can enable local agencies to reduce freight energy use in their jurisdiction; and the development of a comprehensive set of analytical tools to enable professionals to assess how policy measures will influence the behavior of the supply chain participants, their demand pattern and ultimately, freight energy use, among others.

According to 2016 statistics, vehicles transported 11 billion tons of freight, more than $36 billion worth of goods each day, and moved people nearly three trillion vehicle miles, according to the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office.

The Vehicle Technologies Office funding is an investment in highly innovative, highly leveraged, and scalable projects that will provide real-world experience and generate knowledge and lessons learned to help improve the nation’s energy security, support energy independence, improve transportation efficiency, and strengthen U.S. economic competitiveness, according to the Energy Department.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America’s first technological research university. For nearly 200 years, Rensselaer has been defining the scientific and technological advances of our world. Rensselaer faculty and alumni represent 85 members of the National Academy of Engineering, 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 25 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 8 members of the National Academy of Medicine, 8 members of the National Academy of Inventors, and 5 members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as 6 National Medal of Technology winners, 5 National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With 7,000 students and nearly 100,000 living alumni, Rensselaer is addressing the global challenges facing the 21st century—to change lives, to advance society, and to change the world. To learn more, go to