(WBIR - Oak Ridge) Ten miles per gallon might not seem like the best gas mileage in the world. However, it is revolutionary in terms of huge tractor-trailers that haul cargo across the country.
On Tuesday morning, Cummins, Peterbilt, and the Department of Energy rolled out the new "SuperTruck" at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Transfer trucks guzzle 25 percent of fuel consumed in the United States. The average fuel efficiency for the large cargo trucks in the nation is around 6.5 miles per gallon. The SuperTruck improves that to 10.7 miles per gallon.
Researchers at ORNL say they used laser probes to help diagnose engine efficiency so the SuperTruck could deliver big savings for the nation and the environment.
"The Department of Energy is partnering in this because one of our major missions is energy security. Certainly, enhancing fuel economy goes towards enhancing our nation's energy security," said Bill Partridge, researcher at ORNL.
Every crease, fold, and bend on the truck is designed to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Another major contributing factor is decreased weight by using strong lighter parts. The SuperTruck also uses wider single tires rather than the double-tire configuration found on most tractor-trailers today.
"The single tires are lighter and they have less surface resistance," said David Koeberlein, director of advanced engineering for Cummins, Inc. "There are flaps on the side that go down to fill the gap between the tires on the trailer. In the down position, that surface can keep the air out from underneath the trailer which improves aerodynamics."
Tailpipe exhaust and engine heat that normally goes to waste is now recaptured and recirculated to give the truck more power.
"And it goes straight back to the crank shaft. And that is power that would be wasted otherwise," said Koeberlein.
The SuperTruck boasts a 75 percent fuel economy increase, an 86 percent freight efficiency gain, and a 43 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
All of these improvements come at a higher price. Right now the prototype is around a "million dollar truck." Koeberlein said he is hopeful the bang for the buck the truck delivers will drive demand for the vehicle.
"For a trucking company, the SuperTruck would save them $27,000 a year in fuel costs. That's per truck if they drive 120,000 miles," said Koeberlein.
The next main challenge is to demonstrate to trucking companies that the technological improvements are built to last. If they can prove the enhancements are durable and will pay for themselves, the new SuperTruck could be in it for the long haul in the transportation sector.