ORNL, partners working to keep trucks, nation on road to prosperity

May 29, 2001

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., May 30, 2001 - Established programs in lightweight materials, intelligent vehicle systems and advanced diesels place the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) firmly in the cab when it comes to the 21st Century Truck Partnership.

The partnership, which combines the resources and capabilities of DOE, the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, the Environmental Protection Agency and 16 industrial partners, aims to secure the future of the nation's trucking industry by developing technologies to increase safety, fuel economy and performance. It's also designed to lower emissions.

"It's an ambitious undertaking, but we have assembled an impressive list of agencies and industry partners and together have drafted a comprehensive plan that can allow us to reach our goals," said Ron Bradley of ORNL's Metals and Ceramics Division. Bradley headed a team that wrote the Technology Roadmap for the 21st Century Truck Partnership.

The security of the nation's trucking industry is essential, the roadmap notes, because "a productive, innovative U.S. trucking and supporting industry is essential for economic prosperity of every American business."

Long-range research goals of the program include developing technologies that double fuel efficiency of the Class 8 "long-haul" tractor-trailers and triple the fuel efficiency of Class 2b and 6 "delivery van" vehicles and Class 8 transit buses, meet prevailing emissions standards and enhance affordability while maintaining or enhancing performance. The partnership will also contribute to meeting the DOT goal of reducing by 50 percent fatalities in truck-related accidents by 2010.

One of the key ingredients for success is continuing to improve the fuel efficiency and performance of diesel engines while reducing their emissions by more than 90 percent compared to today's diesels, said Ron Graves of ORNL's Engineering Technology Division.

"Emissions from new diesel engines have been dramatically lowered since the early 1980s, and we're making steady progress toward near-zero emissions," Graves said. "At the same time, engine efficiency and performance have continued to improve."

These results are being achieved in part through ORNL's Advanced Propulsion Technology Center, which provides unique diagnostic and measurement tools that allow researchers to characterize after-treatment devices that are designed to reduce diesel emissions and increase performance.

Diesel engines offer up to 50 percent greater efficiency than their gasoline-powered counterparts and lower emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Diesels also offer the advantage of much greater longevity. Unfortunately, diesel emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are higher.

In recent years, great strides have been made in lowering nitrogen oxides and sulfur particulate (soot) emissions. Until now, most of the gains in efficiency and emission reductions have been made through advances in fuel injection and air-handling systems.

Now, research is aimed at developing catalytic converters for diesels and exploring exhaust recirculation systems that would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. Diesel particle filters are being developed that are 90 percent effective. Lower sulfur levels in diesel fuel are critical for the next big step in lowering emissions, Graves said.

In addition to using cleaner fuels and advanced engine technologies, other research focuses on developing lightweight materials and enabling materials technologies, said Bill Corwin of the Metals and Ceramics Division.

Enabling materials include a new composite or alloy for fuel injectors, which must be precise to optimize performance and fuel efficiency. On the technology side, researchers are working on smart materials for sensors and actuators that would be part of a system to increase performance, economy or safety.

"Lightweight materials can make a difference, but I believe that the enabling materials can make just as significant a contribution," said Corwin, who worked on the materials section of the 21st Century Truck roadmap.

Another key to meeting goals outlined in the roadmap is the use of hybrid electric powertrains, said Dave O'Kain of ORNL's Engineering Technology Division. Hybrids use stored electrical energy and an electric motor to assist the internal combustion engine when high power is needed.

"With a hybrid powertrain, the engine size can be reduced and the engine can be operated at near optimum conditions most of the time, leading to reduced emissions and improved fuel economy," O'Kain said.

Hybrids are most effective in urban driving where the vehicle has many stops and starts. O'Kain is on assignment at DOE headquarters, providing technical support to the 21st Century Truck Program Coordination Office.

Safety and intelligent vehicle design are also key components of the 21st Century Truck program, and ORNL boasts a significant program in this area, said Bill Knee, director of ORNL's Intelligent Transportation Systems Program.

Knee expects ORNL studies on driver distraction and work with integrated systems to offer dividends, as will a state-of-the-art, first-of-its-kind truck brake test facility to be built at the National Transportation Research Center.

"The goal of vehicle intelligence systems is to ensure that new technologies enhance a driver's performance," Knee said. "We can do that by studying how all of these devices work together and whether they will be helpful or harmful to the driver."
Industry members of the 21st Century Truck team are: Allison Transmissions, BAE SYSTEMS Controls, Caterpillar, Cummins Engine, DaimlerChrysler, Detroit Diesel, Eaton, Freightliner, General Motors, Honeywell, International Truck & Engine, Mack Trucks, NovaBUS, Oshkosh Trucks, PACCAR and Volvo Trucks North America.

ORNL is a DOE multiprogram facility managed by UT-Battelle.


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DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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