It’s no surprise that engineers and designers are furiously trying to green long-haul tractor trailors. Just like airplanes, the profit margins are small, so ekeing out a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency is big news. And commerical transport represents a massive chunk of the carbon footprint in our goods–so much that it often nullifies the good intent of organic produce. But what might surprise you are the ways in which engineers are making big-rigs greener.
A week ago, Daimler Chrysler unveiled it’s “Predictive Cruise Control.” Just like a regular cruise control, it maintains a steady speed to save gas; but it does one better by using maps and satellite route previews a mile in advance, to detect upcoming road grades. Based on that data, a computer calculates optimum speed and momentum settings to maximize fuel efficiency. The gizmo will first be available as an option in Daimlers Frelightliner Cascadia trucks, starting June 2009. They’ll also have cameras replacing rear-view mirrors to improve aerodynamics–along with redesigned farings on the trucks underbelly and cowling up top–electronically controlled tire pressure, so that the truck rides lower with less drag at cruising speed.
Another idea from an inventor a Lawrence Livermore Lab quietly entered testing last fall. The idea is to eliminate the vortices that swirl between a trucks can and trailer, using fans that blow air across the gap and thus keep the vortices from forming—after all, at speed, 65% of a truck’s energy goes into overcoming aerodynamic drag.