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How Semi-Truck Technology is Changing

Modern semi-truck and medium- and heavy-duty engines are significantly cleaner and more efficient, but better technology solutions are still needed. Sustainability and engine performance are two things that continue to evolve in engine technology.

Engine Performance

The Energy Department's SuperTruck initiative is helping heavy-duty trucks become more efficient. Heavy-duty Class 8 trucks, which move approximately 80 percent of products in the country, account for over 20 percent of total transportation energy consumption. The typical engine, which is 3,300 lbs with 500 horsepower and turbocharged diesel, is now one of the most energy-efficient internal combustion engines available.

These engines use high performance pistons, cast-iron cylinder blocks and a unique combination of diesel particulate filters and NOx selective catalyst reduction technology for exhaust treatment. However, these popular engines are approaching their maximum operating capabilities because of material limitations that inhibit performance beyond peak cylinder pressures of 180 to 200 bar.

Going Green

The need for sustainable solutions is directly impacting the transportation field. Semi-trucks and heavy-duty trucks must improve their fuel economy while maintaining performance. Advanced combustion engines are being customized for specific applications to use the most efficient combustion strategies. This will meet regulatory requirements and operate at higher peak cylinder pressures.

One of the easiest ways to improve fuel economy is through enhancing the internal combustion engine’s efficiency. There are new engine configurations and combustion formulas, such as Volvo’s computational fluid dynamics (CFD) technology, which reduces soot particles and fuel consumption by two percent. The ideal engine will maximize the potential of spark ignition gasoline and compression ignition diesel engines.

Part two will explore how researchers are overcoming the material-specific technology gaps that inhibit vehicle efficiency, such as cab, body and chassis structures and architecture.