ST. LOUIS - James Steffen, director of fleet engineering and technical support for Memphis-based ServiceMaster, recently shared his insights with more than 500 Green Truck Summit attendees, a two-day meeting of fleet operators interested in new fuel technologies, according to The Commercial Appeal.

ServiceMaster began looking for ways to reduce fuel consumption and emissions about four years ago, Steffen said.

The company had approximately 14,000 trucks whose diesel engines also powered each truck's equipment for spraying lawn chemicals and pesticides. ServiceMaster paid a premium price for the diesel engines to be able to use them to power the spray equipment.

"We run the trucks eight or nine hours a day to run spray equipment," he said.

One of the most promising ideas Steffen considered was to electrify the spray equipment on the trucks, which are mostly in the firm's Terminix, TruGreen lawn care, and TruGreen LandCare divisions.

"We looked around and there really wasn't anything available that fit our applications and our trucks," he said. "So, about 2 1/2 years ago, we started doing it ourselves."

ServiceMaster built two hybrid gas-electric prototypes. Similar to hybrid electric cars, each truck has a system that uses energy from driving and braking to charge up a battery. Unlike electric cars, the hybrid truck then uses the energy from that battery to run an electric motor to power the spray equipment. One of his criteria was that a hybrid truck could cost no more to buy or operate than a diesel truck.

The two prototypes worked well enough that two years ago the company had 15 hybrid trucks built to test in diverse areas of the country. They passed the test, and last year ServiceMaster added 25 more hybrid trucks to its fleet.

Then, this winter, "we ordered 85 more," Steffen said, and plans are to order more every year as the company replaces aging vehicles, reported Commercial Appeal.