'Supertruck' big rig design doubles fuel efficiency

A radical rethinking of tractor trailer design may drastically cut emissions and save fuel.
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor

Aerodynamic isn't a word anyone would typically use to describe those hulking behemoths we've come to know as big rig trucks. But that may soon change with the introduction of a sleek new exterior design that dramatically cuts emissions and saves fuel.

If standard trucks can be thought of as the four-wheeled workhorses, than tractor-trailers can be likened to modern-day oxen since they're relied upon to transport some pretty hefty cargo, sometimes with payloads that weigh as much as several hundred tons. And while trucking companies over the years have sought ways to have the vehicles deliver goods by the most cost effective means possible, they've primarily focused on improving capacity. A very obvious example of this is the controversial triple tractor trailers that have been banned in some states.

More recent efforts, however, have explored improving the aerodynamics of cargo trucks as a way of saving on the cost of fuel and to meet stricter federal fuel efficiency requirements due to do into effect in 2014.

In February, BMI Corporation employed the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory resident supercomputer to develop the SmartTruck UnderTray System, a set of finely-tuned wind deflectors that may cut diesel fuel use by of 1.5 billion gallons of diesel fuel and carbon dioxide emissions by 16.4 million tons. Now Jeremy Singley, a design consultant, has come up with SuperTruck, a completely streamlined body kit that, when fitted to existing big rigs, doubles their fuel efficiency.

The kit was designed for AirFlow Truck Company and, at first glance, bears an uncanny resemblance to a high speed rail vehicle. But when you consider that the trains are designed to efficiently transport passengers at speeds of around 200 miles per hour with as little drag as possible, it actually makes a lot sense. What also helps reduce drag is the repositioning of the radiator grill to the bottom of the vehicle so that incoming draft air can flow through with much less resistance.

And apparently, such a radical rethinking of cargo transportation has garnered the attention of some in the trucking business. Singley recently told Wired that AirFlow is negotiating with suppliers to build kits for existing fleets.

Besides the body kit, the company is also looking to take truck aerodynamics a step further by building a big rig from scratch. According to Singley, the proposed vehicle, which is aptly named FutureTruck, has been shown to reduce drag by 63 percent over conventional streamliners.

(via Wired)

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