In response to an initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Volvo SuperTruck – which could increase the fuel economy of 18-wheelers from about 6 mpg to more than 10 mpg – was developed with ExxonMobil engineers and other collaborators.
Making up only 4 percent of the highway traffic, heavy-duty vehicles consume almost 20 percent of all fuel. And ExxonMobil forecasts that long term, these trucks will become the largest energy-consuming segment of the transportation sector.
While regulators have focused most of their efforts on fuel economy gains in automobiles and light-duty trucks, heavy-duty trucks offer plenty of opportunities to save fuel through the application of technology.
Volvo’s SuperTruck collaboration was designed to do just that. ExxonMobil was brought in on the project to help optimize fuel combustion and lubricant formulation expertise.
Through the expertise and contributions of partners across a spectrum of industries, the Volvo SuperTruck has already yielded aerodynamic and fuel-efficiency advancements that were incorporated into Volvo’s current heavy-duty truck product lines with more to come in 2017.
How significant are these technological strides?
The DOE estimates that replacing all heavy-duty trucks currently on U.S. roads with SuperTrucks would slash oil consumption by as much as 300 million barrels per year, saving truck operators nearly $20 billion in annual fuel costs. About 80 percent of the goods that fill American stores and 70 percent of all freight tonnage is hauled by heavy-duty tractor-trailers.
Collaboration to meet future challenges
The DOE created the SuperTruck initiative in 2010 to dramatically increase tractor-trailer fuel, engine and drivetrain efficiency. It challenged manufacturers to develop trucks that will exceed more stringent fuel-efficiency standards in the coming years. Current heavy-duty trucks often average less than 7 miles per gallon of diesel.
That situation motivated Volvo’s heavy-duty truck division to take up the DOE’s challenge. The truck manufacturer collaborated with ExxonMobil to develop a truck that’s able to deliver more goods and travel longer distances – and do it all while consuming less fuel and producing less emissions than current models.
“ExxonMobil wanted to get better insights into the trucking industry and where it’s going in the future,” said Matt Watkins, ExxonMobil fuels engineer. “Working with Volvo made perfect sense. They’re global, they’re a leader in heavy-duty trucking and they share our passion for technology.”
The collaboration builds on earlier ventures where ExxonMobil worked closely with Volvo to develop high-performance engine and driveline lubricants. Extending that relationship to the SuperTruck, where ExxonMobil’s research in fuel efficiency and combustion chemistry would help Volvo meet the DOE’s ambitious benchmarks, was a natural fit.
“We worked with Volvo to identify opportunities to improve engine thermal efficiency through better understanding of fuel quality effects,” said Krystal Wrigley, ExxonMobil fuels research manager.
In addition to ExxonMobil, Volvo worked with other companies on aerodynamics and lightweight materials, further improving the vehicle’s ability to haul more freight on less fuel, cutting drag and wind resistance.
The goal was to increase freight efficiency, which is the distance a truck can carry a ton of freight per gallon of fuel used, by 50 percent. Volvo exceeded that goal, achieving an 88 percent increase measured during on-road testing – not in a lab.
ExxonMobil and Volvo plan to continue working together on advanced fuels and engine systems to reduce the fuel demand for heavy-duty vehicles, which is currently expected to increase by about 45 percent from 2014 to 2040.