Sir Richard Branson's road map for efficient trucks

Branson's bid for biofuels
Branson's bid for biofuels   

In a career filled with big ambitions that include finding new ways to send people into space, Sir Richard Branson's latest quest to make the trucking industry more fuel efficient may appear to some as rather mundane.

But what it lacks in sex appeal it more than makes up for in its potential impact on the economy and environment.

Branson and his team at the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit firm that encourages businesses to adopt practices that will reduce their carbon footprints, estimate the North American trucking industry could save up to $40 billion a year if operators share their insight into dozens of new or recently developed technologies.

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From incorporating diesel-fired heaters to reduce idling to the use of new axle configurations to cut weight and improve mileage, there are more than 70 technologies on the market today that operators could tap into to make their fleets more efficient and more profitable.

"It will make a massive difference here in America and around the world," Branson said.

Richard Branson
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Richard Branson

In conjunction with the United Nations Climate Summit, the Carbon War Room is launching Truckingefficiency.org, a website that aims to cut fuel costs for tractor-trailers by more than 30 percent.

Based on Truckinfo.net's estimates that there are 2 million tractor-trailers in the U.S., even a modest reduction in fuel use could have a huge impact.

"This effort is to work with the early adopters and get the information out in a way so all fleets can take action whether they are small or large," said Mike Roeth, trucking operations lead for the Carbon War Room.

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Though Branson's push for improved trucking efficiency is unlikely to get the type of attention he generates with other ventures, including his recent comments to CNBC that he thinks travel from New York to Tokyo could be achieved in less than an hour, it's hardly a surprise he's passionate about the cause.

Trucks line up to enter Port Everglades on July 30, 2014 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Road to saving $40 billion   

For years Branson has warned of the need for the transportation industry to cut emissions. In particular, he's pushed for the development of biofuels to replace jet fuel so the world's rapidly expanding aviation industry doesn't cause exponentially more pollution to the skies when additional flights are added to more cities.

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For example, Branson's Virgin Atlantic is working with carbon recycling firm LanzaTech, which plans to use emissions from steel plants in China to make biofuels that can be used by airlines.

"There are enough steel plants and aluminum plants worldwide to cater for every single plane in the world," Branson said. "So in time, I think we will get there but it is going to take time."

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.