7 Ways to Cut Fuel Consumption With IT

Biofuels and electric vehicles are offering new forms of transportation, but let’s face it: cellulosic ethanol remains years away from commercial-scale production and electric vehicles are years from being manufactured for the mass market. In the mean time, while we’re waiting for those green goodies to make it to market, companies are using software, the web and and communication networks to develop tools to help today’s vehicles become more efficient. We’ll be delving into some of these topics at our Green:Net conference on March 24 in San Francisco. Here are seven of our favorite tools that can help drivers of gas-chugging cars cut down on fuel and reduce carbon emissions:

1). Online Eco-Driving School: Startup GreenRoad Technologies sells a subscription service for a web-based educational tool that tracks driving habits (and encourages safer, more efficient ones) via an in-vehicle monitoring system. The company, which is backed by at least $20 million from Virgin Green, Benchmark Capital, Amadeus Capital and Balderton Capital, sells its service to enterprise fleet customers that want to save on fuel and have employees drive more safely. GreenRoad says driving habits are responsible for 33 percent of fuel consumption and more than 95 percent of vehicle crashes.

2). Cell Phone Fuel Tracking: Your cell phone in your pocket can provide a handy way to keep track of your fuel economy. Moblu is a mobile and web tool that drivers can use to keep track of miles driven and gas purchased — you can enter the data via mobile twitter, or use the mobile web on a Blackberry or iPhone. At lease five other applications provide similar fuel-tracking tools for the iPhone. By using their mobiles to monitor fuel usage, drivers can become more aware of their fuel economy and know to get a tuneup when mileage slips.

3). Traffic-Avoiding Software Tools: Last year, after five years of research, Microsoft (s MSFT) launched a web-based service that helps drivers avoid traffic jams using algorithms and artificial intelligence. Basically, the service applies software models that reproduce traffic interactions and determines how traffic will respond in a given location. We haven’t tested it out, but Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard (who will be giving a keynote at Green:Net) was pretty bullish on it at a recent data center conference. Less sophisticated traffic-avoiding services are available in most cities via online services like Yahoo Maps, MapQuest, or local news web sites and phone-based services.

4). Good Ol’ GPS Navigation: OK, GPS systems for our cars and trucks have long been in existence, and companies from TomTom to TeleNav to Garmin (s GRMN) are selling gadgets and services. But providing the quickest route for your individual destination using an eye in the sky is a very easy way to cut down on time on the road and thus fuel consumption. Many large fleet operators are now relying on GPS navigation systems these days to significantly trim their gas bills.

5). In-Car Eco-Driving Games: Toyota (s TM) might have started a fuel-geek craze with the Prius’ digital dashboard, which displays real-time fuel consumption and prods some drivers to drive more efficiently. But other car companies are seeing the benefits of digital interfaces that can promote fuel economy. Honda (s HMC) told us recently about its “Eco Assist” dashboard for the 2010 Honda Insight hybrid. The Insight’s dashboard has a crescent icon that changes color based on how fast the driver speeds up or slows down, glowing green when the driving is most fuel efficient, and turning blue as it becomes wasteful.

6). Fuel-Focused Social Networks: The latest pastime of hypermilers is hanging out on fuel consumption logs and bragging about their jaw-dropping MPGs. Check out fuel economy-focused sites like the logs on CleanMPG.org, or newcomer Fuelly. They’re not for everyone, but for those that go OCD over gas tanks, they’re a real find.

7). Web-Based Ride/Car Sharing: Using the power of the web to connect drivers, riders and cars, is a way to make transportation more efficient and take unneeded cars off the road. Whether its a car-sharing service like ZipCar or CityCarShare, a commuter carpooling network like RideSearch, or an event-based ride share like PickupPal, the web can unleash the power of information to make useful connections.