There is probably nothing more American, or less fuel-efficient, than the tractor-trailer, which transports tons of thousands of tons of goods from place to place, if you.
For example, the food you ate for breakfast this morning, unless you live on a farm, most-likely didn’t originate in your town. The average distance food has to travel is about 1,500 miles, according to one estimate, and that’s if it even originated in the country. Even if food, or anything else, travels via train from one hub to another, tractor-trailers still remain the mainstay of the shipping industry. Even small improvements in fuel efficiency in this sector would have a huge impact.
The average tractor-trailer’s fuel economy is around 6mpg (miles per gallon), depending on load and wind speed and direction. No, I did not suddenly switch from tractor-trailers to ships, but it is estimated that up to 50% of a tractor-trailer’s fuel is spent just pushing the air out of the way. Add a headwind, and the fuel economy can drop below 3mpg! Some trucks on the market have adapted more-aerodynamic body styles, but there is still plenty that can be done.
Peterbilt’s SuperTruck program focused mostly on tractor-trailer powertrain and drivetrain efficiency, including better combustion technology, low-friction transmissions, and some mild aerodynamic improvements. The result was a 50% improvement in fuel economy, just shy of 10mpg for a 65,000lb GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating).
AirFlow Trucks forcused their efforts on improvements in electrical efficiency, switching out most of the old-style mechanical and electrical gauges for digital gauges and a multi-display. The AirFlow BulletTruck tractor-trailer looks like something out of a sci-fi film, only the front wheels and mirrors sticking out of the highly-streamlined shell. In the resulting test-run, 65,000lb GVWR from Connecticut to California, the AirFlow BulletTruck averaged 13.4mpg, which reflects a 123% improvement in fuel economy.
Such tractor-trailer fuel economy improvements, if implemented fleet-wide, could theoretically result in annual fuel savings of upwards of 7.5 billion gallons. This would be the equivalent of eliminating 21 million tons of emissions, or removing almost 4.3 million cars from the roads.
Image © AirFlow Trucks