The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is spreading $187 million in grants around the truck manufacturing industry to significantly improve fuel efficiency for heavy- and light-duty trucks, all while maintaining current exhaust emission curbs.

“Improving the fuel efficiency of heavy trucks can make significant contributions to reducing America's oil consumption within a short timeframe,” DOE spokesperson Jen Stutsman told FleetOwner. “While heavy-duty vehicles make up only 4% of the vehicles on the road, they account for nearly 20% of the fuel consumed in the U.S.”

DOE Secretary Steven Chu announced the funding of nine projects to improve fuel efficiency for heavy-duty trucks and passenger vehicles yesterday at the headquarters of Cummins Inc. in Columbus, IN. Out of the $187 million grants, more than $100 million comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Three of the nine projects – accounting for $115 million of the $187 million in grants – will focus on increasing Class 8 long-haul tractor fuel efficiency by at least 50% by 2015. Lumped together under what’s being called the “SuperTruck” program, four OEMs will experiment with advanced aerodynamics, engine idling reduction technologies, a waste heat recovery system to increase engine efficiency, plus advanced combustion techniques and powertrain hybridization.

“These particular funds … would further expand the kind of work and research that has been done in the 21st Century Truck Program, which looked at the total vehicle – beyond just the engine and powertrain – to improve fuel efficiency,” Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF), told FleetOwner.

“These funds come at an important time, given that the National Academy of Sciences is set to release a report in March that will highlight the path toward establishing a heavy-duty truck fuel economy standard,” he added. “This pursuit of higher engine efficiency and lower carbon dioxide (CO2) levels – without slipping on any of the environmental accomplishments – will create unprecedented challenges in the industry. It has the potential to make the emissions standards milestones look comparatively easy.”

As part of DOE’s “SuperTruck” grants, Cummins Inc. will receive over $38.8 million towork with Peterbilt Motors Co. to combine a more efficient diesel engine, advanced waste heat recovery system, and fuel cell auxiliary power unit to reduce engine idling with an aerodynamic tractor and trailer combination.

“We believe our track record of purposeful innovation and industry leading products, coupled with energy conscious engineering and a strict adherence to quality, provides Peterbilt and Cummins the best opportunity to make the SuperTruck project a commercially viable reality,” said Bill Jackson, Peterbilt gm. “We are proud to be partnered with Cummins as they share our dedication to advancing technologies and solutions to meet future energy needs.”

Daimler Trucks North America, LLC (DTNA) will get $39.5 million to focus on engine downsizing, electrification of auxiliary systems such as oil and water pumps, waste heat recovery, along with improved vehicle aerodynamics and hybridization.

Navistar, Inc. will receive $37.3 million to improve truck and trailer aerodynamics, combustion efficiency, waste heat recovery, hybridization, idle reduction, and reduced rolling resistance tires.

“The improvements we strive to achieve will not come in leaps for the most part, but will be the sum of many smaller but important measures,” Elmar Boeckenhoff, DTNA senior vp-engineering & technology, told FleetOwner. “Don't expect a silver bullet, but expect us to hit the target!”

The remaining six projects – totaling more than $71 million in grants – are focused on developing engine technologies that will improve the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by 25% to 40% by 2015 using an engine-only approach.

Chrysler Group LLC will receive over $14.4 million to devise a flexible combustion system for their minivan platform based on a downsized, turbocharged engine that uses direct gasoline injection, recirculation of exhaust gases, and flexible intake air control to reduce emissions.

Cummins Inc. will get a further $15 million to develop a fuel-efficient, low emissions diesel engine that achieves a 40% fuel economy improvement over conventional gasoline technology and significantly exceeds 2010 EPA emissions requirements.

Delphi Automotive Systems LLC will receive over $7.4 million to design a new low-temperature combustion system, coupled with technologies such as continuously variable valve control and engine “down-speeding,” to improve fuel economy by at least 25%.

Ford Motor Company will ges $15 million to achieve a 25% fuel economy improvement with a gasoline engine in a 2010 mid- to large-size sedan, using technologies including engine downsizing, turbo-charging, direct injection, and a novel exhaust aftertreatment system.

Currently, the transportation sector accounts for 28% of total U.S. energy use, noted Ramin Younessi, Navistar group vp-product development & strategy. “With more than 80% of the nation’s diesel fuel consumed by heavy-duty on-highway Class 8 trucks, the DOE’s development of a ‘Super Truck’ has enormous energy-saving potential as well as significant environmental benefits,” he noted.

If breakthroughs developed by the entire program – for heavy-duty trucks and light vehicles alike – are adopted broadly across the country, they could save more than 100 million gallons of gasoline and diesel per day, and reduce carbon emissions from on-road vehicles by 20% by 2030, Younessi added.

“History has demonstrated that the industry is ready and willing to accept new technologies that provide fuel economy benefits, as these can translate into competitive advantages in the market,” said DOE’s Stutsman. “Because much of the research, development, and production … is done here in the U.S., improvements in fuel efficiency will enable additional sales of these trucks and provide direct job benefits.”