NASA Tests Devices to Increase Truck Fuel Efficiency

Saving the nation $10 billion annually in diesel fuel costs may be possible in a few years, thanks to new devices developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and now being tested at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

Truck tests done in the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex at NASA Ames include a smoke test that shows how air flows around the truck.
LLNL has teamed with Navistar (Warrenville, IL), NASA Ames, the U.S. Air Force, and industry, to develop and test devices for reducing the aerodynamic drag of tractor-trailers. The average fuel mileage of a tractor-trailer is six miles per gallon. A two percent reduction in the aerodynamic drag of tractor-trailers translates into 285 million gallons of diesel fuel saved per year.

LLNL computer simulations have identified critical drag-producing regions around the trucks, such as the trailer base, Truck tests done in the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex at NASA Ames include a smoke test that shows how air flows around the truck. the underbody, and the gap between tractor and trailer. LLNL scientists estimate that with aerodynamic devices placed in these regions, the trucking industry could see as much as a 20% increase in mileage fuel efficiency rate. “This is a technology that could easily be installed on the tractor trailer trucks that are out on the highway today,” said Kambiz Salari, LLNL’s lead scientist on the project. “And its time to market is incredibly quick. In just three years, we could see these devices on the road and realize the real fuel savings.”

The lab is conducting a full-scale test in the world’s largest wind tunnel, the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC), at Ames. The goal is to identify drag-reduction devices, both commercially available and under development, that show the potential for improving fuel efficiency. The wind tunnel test section’s size, 80 feet by 120 feet, makes it ideal for testing a full-scale semi with a 53-foot trailer.

Prototype devices currently under development will be provided by LLNL and Navistar, which are collaborating to get proven drag-reduction devices on the road. Performance will be evaluated under different tractor-trailer combinations.

For more information, visit www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/ releases/2010/10-13AR.html.

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