Photo: U.S. Dept. of Energy

Cool stuff from SuperTruck II

June 26, 2019
Despite the rapid pace of improvement in electric powered vehicles, internal combustion engines are staying around for a good long while and so it makes sense to keep looking for ways to improve their overall efficiency.

For the past seven years, I have had the honor and privilege to be one of the reviewers for the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office. A few weeks ago I got to review the five current SuperTruck II projects. The teams participating in the program are: Cummins/Peterbilt, Daimler, Navistar, Volvo and PACCAR.

The one big takeaway from the review is that there are not just a few technologies that will allow these teams to hit the goals that have been set for the project. Instead, all the teams are looking at the truck and trailer in their totality to see where they can make gains both big and small.  Technologies to both save fuel and more cargo – the two key components of freight-ton efficiency, the primary objective. 

They are working on a host of things including aerodynamics, lightweighting, energy storage systems, tires, downspeeding, route management, the engine itself, transmissions/axles, rolling resistance, power efficiency, driver assist system, reduction of parasitic load, waste heat recovery, improved aftertreatment. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Here are my observations following the reviews:

  • There are still more opportunities for fuel savings from little things like tires
  • There is a possible 7% efficiency gain from intentionally pairing tractors and trailers
  • There are still aerodynamic improvements that can be taken advantage of (lower ride heights for example)
  • From aggressive lightweighting a lot can be learned about durability
  • Waste heat recovery may limit the usability of design across truck vocations
  • 3%-4% fuel savings seems possible with low voltage hybrids
  • 2.4% improvement disengaging the tandem axle
  • Improvements in base engine efficiency are being realized (Today we are at around 43% and Super Truck II’s goal is 50%; with each team needing to demonstrate 55% in a test lab.)
  • One team will even take that 55% engine and put it into their demonstration tractor!
  • There is a big opportunity in connected cruise control; even shutting the engine off at highway speed
  • Advanced cooling concepts are being explored
  • Focus is being put on total cost of operation over the lifetime of vehicles
  • Work is being done on improving truck driver efficiency

Despite the rapid pace of improvement in electric powered vehicles, internal combustion engines are staying around for a good long while and so it makes sense to keep looking for ways to improve their overall efficiency. Programs like SuperTruck II have shown me just what is possible…and it is pretty amazing.

As a side note, while I was reviewing SuperTruck I also got to see two other projects. One on hydrogen fuel cells and the other on truck stop electrification for charging electric vehicles. There is some pretty cool stuff going on there too.

Contact me ([email protected]) if you want to hear more about my observations on SuperTrucks II or the two other projects I got to see. You know me, I am always happy to talk freight efficiency.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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