The Michigan Engineer News Center

Efficient tractor-trailers: U-M researcher contributes to Volvo’s design

The Volvo Group recently unveiled its SuperTruck; the vehicle achieves an 88 percent freight efficiency improvement, which means it can carry more cargo while reducing how much fuel it uses.| Short Read
EnlargeVolvo's new super truck. Photo: U-M Engineering.
IMAGE:  Volvo's new super truck. Photo: U-M Engineering.

The Volvo Group recently unveiled its SuperTruck, a design for a high-efficiency 18-wheeler that uses advanced technology and strategies from Michigan Engineering researchers. The vehicle achieves an 88 percent freight efficiency improvement, which means it can carry more cargo while reducing how much fuel it uses. This blew past the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) original target of a 50 percent freight efficiency improvement in the SuperTruck program.

Two-thirds of freight in the U.S.—practically everything that fills our grocery shelves—arrives by long-haul trucks. Yet, over the last three decades, trucks’ fuel efficiency increased by only 1 mile per gallon (4.8 mpg to 5.8 mpg). To encourage innovation, the DOE charged four companies, including Volvo, with improving truck and trailer technologies. The agency’s aim is to make trucks both fuel efficient—by miles per gallon—and freight efficient.

André Boehman, a professor of mechanical engineering, has been working on the project with Volvo for the past five years. Boehman’s group, which includes undergraduate and graduate students, explored and tested advanced combustion strategies and fuel formulations to support high-efficiency engines.

With these improvements, made in partnership with other universities and companies, Volvo’s SuperTruck exceeds 12 mpg in road tests, which is 70 percent more fuel efficient than the 2009 Volvo baseline model, and experiences 40 percent less drag. In addition, Michigan Engineering combustion and fuel research contributed to developing an engine concept capable of achieving 55 percent net thermal efficiency—a measure of how well an engine converts heat from fuel into energy.

“This will save enormous amounts of fuel in the long run,” said Boehman. “Customers will see up to a 3.5 percent improvement in fuel efficiency from aerodynamic upgrades and up to 6.5 percent from powertrain upgrades as a result of SuperTruck.”

Volvo is already using designs from SuperTruck in its new lines of trucks for the 2017 model year.

What’s next? The DOE has awarded SuperTruck II projects to research technologies to improve heavy-truck freight efficiency by 100 percent over the baseline 2009 model Volvo VNL 670.  Boehman’s group has signed on to continue collaboration with Volvo, concentrating on the goal of demonstrating an engine that achieves 55 percent net thermal energy for SuperTruck II.

Boehman’s group adapted a Volvo D11 engine for use as a single cylinder research engine as part of their SuperTruck I activities. This engine will be used as a test bed for increasing engine efficiency and will be located in a newly renovated test cell at the Walter E. Lay Automotive Laboratory that is being configured to support heavy-duty research engines.

“We are really excited to be participating with Volvo in SuperTruck II and look forward to an outstanding opportunity to make significant contributions to engine development, while offering our students an exceptional educational experience,” said Boehman.

Other universities and companies working on Volvo’s SuperTruck I program included Pennsylvania State University, Exxon Mobil, Grote, Metalsa, Michelin and Ridge Corporation.

EnlargeVolvo's new super truck at night. Photo: Michigan Engineering.
IMAGE:  Volvo's new super truck at night. Photo: Michigan Engineering.
Volvo's new super truck. Photo: U-M Engineering.
Volvo's new super truck at night. Photo: Michigan Engineering.
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