Volvo Tractor Trailer Concept Is 30% More Efficient

Volvo has developed a tractor trailer combination that is 30% more fuel efficient than normal. The gains are attributable to a host of aerodynamic improvements coupled with dramatic weight reductions and the use of low rolling resistance tires.

Volvo high efficiency tractor trailer concept

The improvements begin with a normal Volvo FH 420 tractor, which uses a 12.9-liter inline 6-cylinder diesel engine. The aero improvements include fairings on the chassis of the tractor that cover everything except the front wheels. The trailer also gets side skirts and spoilers at the rear to lower drag. Volvo claims a 40% improvement in aerodynamic efficiency from the modifications. In addition, the trailer itself weighs 4,400 pounds less than a standard trailer.

The low rolling resistance tires are helpful, but Volvo also removes the enormous barn door side view mirrors usually found on big rigs and replaces them with digital cameras feeding a display screen inside the cab. Companies like Tesla Motors have been trying to persuade regulators to approve the use of such cameras for years but without success. Perhaps breakthroughs in technology for long haul trucks will filter down to the automotive sector eventually.

Volvo began working on the high efficiency concept 5 years ago and started testing a prototype last fall. The company says the package is not intended for production, but that many of the aerodynamic developments are being incorporated into the trucks is sells today.

Work on more efficient trucks has more urgency now that the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted have submitted their proposed Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for trucks and trailers to the Office of Management and Budget. It is expected that new rules could be approved and promulgated by August of this year.

The new package of rules will apply to model year 2021 to 2027 trucks and tractors. Starting in 2018, they will apply to trailers as well. They will also apply to complete tractor trailer units for the first time. They will establish separate engine fuel efficiency standards for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles.

According to Trucking Info, compliance with the new engine standards may involve finding ways to reduce friction, cut parasitic loads, the use of variable valve timing, and improvements to exhaust gas recirculation, combustion, and fuel injection systems. The EPA and NHTSA project that up to 10% of heavy-duty engines may need turbo-compounding and 15% of engines could have waste heat recovery systems by 2027 to meet the stricter standards.

Every item in your home probably moved on a truck sometime during its journey from the factory. There are far fewer trucks on America’s road than private passenger cars, but their emissions are disproportionate to their numbers. The extra cost of making trucks more fuel efficient will be recaptured many times over in lower fuel costs and in reductions in health care costs throughout the population resulting from lower carbon emissions.

Source: Green Car Reports  Pnoto credit: Volvo Trucks


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.