Supercomputer Designs Energy-Efficient Trucks, Potentially Saving Billions in Fuel Costs

semi truck

Supercomputers can do everything from solving medical mysteries to predicting where oil spills will hit next. Now, thanks to some Department of Energy handiwork, they can also save billions of gallons of fuel. The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and BMI Corporation recently used ORNL's Jaguar supercomputer--the fastest supercomputer in the country--to design technology to make semi trucks more energy efficient.

The team leveraged Jaguar, which is more than 100,000 times more powerful than a typical home laptop, to build a SmartTruck UnderTray System for trucks. The system consists of fairings--or, shells around the outside of the vehicle--that improve the aerodynamics of 18-wheeler trucks.

SmartTruck

According to the DOE, Jaguar cut down on the computing turnaround time for BMI's SmartTruck models so much that the company was able to go from concept to manufacture-ready design in 18 months. Originally, BMI anticipated that the project would take three and a half years.

The SmartTruck UnderTray System has been deployed in a number of fleets throughout the U.S. since its introduction in October 2010, likely because truck companies jumped at the chance to install it. The technology achieves fuel savings of between 7 and 12% on a typical truck, which means big savings on cash at the pump. If all 1.3 million semi trucks in the U.S. used the SmartTruck UnderTray, it would save 1.5 billion gallons of diesel fuel ($5 billion in costs) and cut CO2 emissions by 16.4 million tons. Not bad work for a computer.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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3 Comments

  • SEPCO-SolarLighting

    Sounds great! I used to work for a trucking company and one of the largest issues in the trucking industry was fuel efficiency. Not only would more fuel efficient trucks save money for the companies, but it would allow for a cleaner environment. Now we just need them to run on biofuels, become hybrid, or electric (why not install solar panels on the roof of the trailers?)

  • evilkillerwhale

    Because you would lose fuel efficiency. The heavier vehicle would require more power to move than the gain by adding solar panels. 

  • Thomas O'Hearn

    That's amazing. The future innovations we'll see through the use of computers to solve problems is limitless. I'll have to write something about this on my blog as well. Would love to know more about this 'Jaguar' computer!

    Thanks for the article and update, Ariel.

    Thomas @ 99niches