Diesel fuel prices approaching $5 a gallon – and the resulting economic impact on products transported by truck – have created renewed interest in fuel-saving technologies developed during the past decade at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).
Use of pressurized air “active flow control” techniques combined with conventional aerodynamic streamlining could improve fuel efficiency by 8 to 12 percent in the heavy trucks used to transport a broad range of products. If installed throughout the U.S. trucking fleet, these technologies for reducing aerodynamic drag could save between 1.6 and 2.4 billion gallons of fuel per year.
“The dramatic increase in diesel prices has led the trucking industry to reconsider aerodynamic fuel efficiency improvements that might not have been cost effective only a few years ago,” said Robert Englar, a GTRI principal research engineer and principal investigator for the project. “Though there are technical challenges ahead, we believe our techniques for improving fuel efficiency offer significant potential to reduce the impact of these fuel cost increases. Beyond the trucking industry, that would help consumers who see the effects of fuel costs in everything they buy.”
Since diesel prices began their rapid increase, Englar has seen growing interest in the GTRI low-drag active flow control aerodynamic technologies, which were developed with support from the U.S. Department of Energy starting in the late 1990s. He has received numerous inquiries for information from both large and small trucking companies, and also from railroads – whose higher-speed western track runs could also benefit from aerodynamic drag reduction.
Aerodynamic drag is the major component of heavy vehicle resistance at typical highway speeds, and overcoming that resistance requires increased energy use. Truck designers have reduced drag on the tractor portion of the vehicles by applying such aerodynamic streamlining approaches as roof fairings, but those have done little to address drag on the aft portion of the trailers.
Because only limited streamlining can be done for trailers due to their length, the GTRI researchers added the active flow control techniques, which use patented pneumatic devices to blow air from slots over small curved aerodynamic surfaces at the rear of the trailers. These air jets smooth the flow of air over the boxy trailers to eliminate air-flow separation, vorticity and suction on the aft doors, which reduces aerodynamic drag at highway speeds.
Read the rest at Georgia Tech Research News.
Were I in the trucking business as an independent owner/operator or a fleet owner, I’d certainly be interested in anything that could save me 8 to 12% on my fuel bill. The profit margins are razor thin in the trucking industry.