DOE Pushes Truck OEMs to Build 'SuperTruck'

August 18, 2013

The Department of Energy's SuperTruck research program — aimed at creating Class 8 tractor-trailers that will achieve 10-mpg in real world conditions — is in full swing as truck and component manufacturer partners use a range of new technologies and design enhancements geared at building vehicles with the goal of improving freight efficiency by 50%.

Key to driving fuel economy improvements via the SuperTruck program is working with tractor-trailers as a complete, integrated unit — not just working on the engine, truck, and trailer in isolation from one another.

Kicked off in early 2010, the $270 million SuperTruck program is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and is administered by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and includes agency funds as well as industry cost-sharing expenses.

"SuperTruck is about developing high-risk technologies and breaking new ground

that will move us towards the goal of energy independence over the long term," says

Roland Gravel, head of the DOE Vehicle Technologies Program.

SuperTruck project participants were broken into teams and were competitively selected and charged with the following different focus areas:

Cummins Inc. — Develop and demonstrate a highly efficient and clean diesel engine, an advanced waste heat recovery system, an aerodynamic Peterbilt tractor and trailer combination, and a fuel cell auxiliary power unit to reduce engine idling. The key focus is on engine efficiency.

Daimler Trucks North America, LLC — Develop and demonstrate technologies including; engine downsizing, electrification of auxiliary systems such as oil and water pumps, waste heat recovery, improved aerodynamics and hybridization. The key focus is on hybridization.

Navistar, Inc. — Develop and demonstrate technologies to improve truck-trailer aerodynamics, combustion efficiency, waste heat recovery, hybridization, idle reduction, and reduced rolling resistance tires. The key focus is on aerodynamics.

Volvo Technology of America, Inc. — Develop and demonstrate technologies to improve engine efficiency, truck-trailer aerodynamics, waste heat recovery, hybridization, idle reduction, and reduced rolling resistance tires. The key focus is on combined truck/engine efficiency.

In a summary of progress in the program, DOE's Gravel says all the SuperTruck projects are on schedule to meet the 50% percent freight efficiency improvement goals.

Cummins and Peterbilt were first to put an actual "SuperTruck" on the highway for real world testing. In March they released the findings from tests of the demonstration vehicle and the results were impressive.

The Class 8 Peterbilt 587 powered by a Cummins ISX15 engine averaged 9.9 mpg during testing last fall on U.S. Route 287 between Fort Worth and Vernon, TX. The testing was conducted over 11 runs meeting SAE International test standards along a 312-mile route. The tractor-trailer had a combined gross weight of 65,000 lbs.

In addition to the fuel economy improvements, the truck also demonstrated a 61% improvement in freight efficiency during testing compared to a baseline truck driving the same route. That significantly exceeded the 50% SuperTruck program goal set by DOE.

The tractor-trailer features a higher-efficiency engine and an aerodynamic tractor-trailer that significantly reduces drag. It also includes a system that converts exhaust heat into power delivered to the crankshaft, electronic controls that use route information to optimize fuel use, tires with lower rolling resistance and lighter-weight material throughout.

Cummins and Peterbilt engineers point out the 54% increase in fuel economy achieved with the vehicle would save about $25,000 annually based on today's diesel fuel prices for a long-haul truck traveling 120,000 miles per year.

DOE's Gravel says he expects as improved and more cost-effective manufacturing methods are developed, and market demand for better fuel economy increases, more of the technologies developed in SuperTruck will find their way into Class 8 trucks. "Over the next decade, an estimated 80% of these technologies are expected to be seen in the marketplace," he says.

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