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Clarkson work on drag reduction hits international stage

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POTSDAM - Anyone who has hauled a trailer or who has shared the highway with a large transport truck knows a little about the aerodynamics of moving vehicles, but Clarkson University Associate Professor Kenneth Visser and his students have been studying this topic in detail for over a decade.

He was recently invited to speak at an international symposium and spend a week interacting with researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Visser was among presenters from other universities and truck manufacturers and carriers from across Europe participating in the Platform for Aerodynamic Road Transport (PART). About 50 international participants gathered to discuss how new technologies and aerodynamics of heavy-duty vehicles can reduce fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.

“We’ve focused on drag reduction, with the main goal of saving fuel,” according to Mr. Visser. “Through our work at Clarkson, we have already found ways to save five to eight percent on fuel consumption of Class 8 vehicles. That’s helpful to all of us and it represents billions of dollars of savings for the trucking industry.”

The conference also looked at the implications of U.S. emissions regulations, which differ widely from those in Europe, Mr. Visser said.

PART, describes itself as a “knowledge platform in which scientists, road transport equipment manufacturers and shippers and carriers work together on a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in the road transport sector by 2020.” PART included conference speakers from Daimler/Mercedes-Benz, DAF Trucks, Volvo, and the major tractor company Scania.

Visser, who also wears the hat of director of Clarkson’s Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, shared information on recent activities at Clarkson focused on active flow control to minimize drag on roll-up door configurations. Drag is responsible for 40 percent of fuel consumption at highway speeds, so reducing it means better fuel efficiency and even, more importantly, less pollution.

Studies on tractor-trailer drag reduction conducted at Clarkson’s Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering use wind tunnel testing to examine how features like mud flaps, vanes, side wings, and tails, etc. affect drag. In 2000, the first full-scale prototype trailer that was designed to reduce drag showed fuel savings of about eight percent over a 10,000 mile cross-country trip. The annual estimated fuel savings for a typical 120,000 miles traveled per year translates to about 1,500 gallons per truck.

Fuel efficiency is a hot topic with multiple real-world environmental and commercial applications. Accordingly, Visser is an academic adviser for ATDynamics, a company whose trailer aerodynamics technology is reducing the fuel consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions of leading North American trucking fleets by 12 percent. According to its website, TrailerTail technology is projected to reduce fuel consumption over the next five years by as much as the entire U.S. electric vehicle industry.

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