A new partnership between Advance Transit Dynamics (ATD) and truck OEM Navistar under the SuperTruck program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will seek ways to improve the entire aerodynamic profile of tractor-trailers as a single, integrated unit.

Under the agreement, announced at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s 2010 annual meeting in Tampa this week, the two companies will share a $37.3 million grant under the DOE’s SuperTruck program, which aims to see a 50% improvement in freight efficiency for on-highway Class 8 trucks, measured in ton-miles per gallon.

"While the trailer add-on devices we provide today deliver up to 12% fuel savings at highway speeds working with Navistar in the SuperTruck project will allow us to exceed those aerodynamic efficiency gains by contributing to a ground-up re-design of truck-trailer combinations,” said Andrew Smith, CEO of AT Dynamics.

Smith told FleetOwner that the DOE project targets a number of areas on tractor-trailers, including engine efficiency, thermal efficiency, and lightening the tractor’s chassis. Yet he believes a “clean-slate” reworking of the entire tractor-trailer aerodynamic profile, incorporating any number of design changes to both truck and trailer, should provide the biggest chunk of the 50% freight efficiency improvement within the SuperTruck program’s five-year timeline.

At highway speeds, Smith said, aerodynamic drag accounts for as much as two-thirds of the fuel consumed by Class 8 trucks. And because aerodynamic drag directly affects the level of power required to move a vehicle at the wheels, aerodynamic improvements will leverage the thermal-efficiency gains, powertrain hybridization and other “upstream” enhancements that are targeted as part of the project.

He also pointed out that, prior to the SuperTruck project, advances in trailer aerodynamics typically were pursued in isolation from truck design. Now, under ATD’s partnership with Navistar, they will be pursued jointly. That will allow for design improvements to be incorporated on the factory floor, instead of being “bolted on” in aftermarket fashion.

“We’re looking at a number of things together,” Smith explained. “The first is manipulating the aerodynamic profile of the vehicle based on its speed – perhaps the deployment of fairings when it reaches highway speed, then retracting them when it slows down. The other is ‘active flow control’ of air around the vehicle – injecting specific ‘bursts’ of air into the flow surrounding the tractor-trailer to reduce drag. We’re going to push aerodynamic improvements as far as we can go.”