Streamlined trucks save bucks

An experimental fuel-saving device developed at ClarksonUniversitymay save the trucking industry substantial sums of money and help reduce vehicle emissions.

“The aft end of ground vehicles is often a design compromise between functionality and aerodynamics,” explained Ken Visser, associate professor of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering. “Traditional transport vehicles have a flat aft end that creates a large drag on the vehicle at highway speeds, which ultimately reduces gas mileage and increases costs and emissions.

“We have designed extendable flat plates that can be mounted to the truck’s rear doors to reduce drag.”

The device, which resembles a set of second doors when closed and opens out into a box-like structure, has been studied in Clarkson’s wind tunnel as well as tested on full-scale vehicles in cross-country road tests.

“The most recent data based on road testing indicates that the device will save approximately one-half mile per gallon, an increase in fuel efficiency of about 10 percent,” said Visser. “This translates into a savings on the order of about $4,000 per year for a truck running 150,000 miles at $2.50 a gallon of fuel.”

Visser and his team of graduate and undergraduate student researchers tested various shapes and created a prototype in 2000.

After developing the technology and design, Visser was awarded a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and contracted with the Plattsburgh, NY-based company Composite Factory to manufacture the device using lightweight composite materials. A design patent for the concept is currently in progress.

The next step is a 50-truck fleet test. “Once we can test run this on a larger scale we will really be able to quantify the fuel savings and environmental benefits,” said Visser.