Mountain View Voice

News - February 19, 2010

Moffett wind tunnel used to test trucks' wind resistance

Research could result in 3.4 billion gallons saved in annual fuel costs, scientists say

by Bay City News

A wind tunnel at Moffett Field normally used to test airplanes and other things that fly is being used to test the aerodynamics of a big diesel truck, with the intention of saving up to 3.4 billion gallons of fuel a year.

The truck will never get off the ground, but reducing wind resistance could save 3.4 billion gallons of diesel fuel each year in the trucking industry, scientists behind the research believe.

That translates to $10 billion savings at truck stops across the nation.

After more than a decade of research, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory this week unveiled technology to allow the trucks to slide through the wind.

At a news conference Tuesday inside a wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, scientists explained how reducing the aerodynamic drag of a semi truck can increase the truck's fuel efficiency, saving $10 billion in diesel fuel costs annually.

Aerodynamic drag is caused by pressure differences around the vehicle, and at highway speeds semi trucks use more than 50 percent of the energy produced by the vehicle engine to overcome that drag, according to scientists.

In late January, scientists brought a semi truck to the wind tunnels located at Moffett Field and operated by NASA Ames. There the truck has been undergoing tests, according to Kambiz Salari, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Scientists have learned that they can increase fuel efficiency by up to 12 percent by making a series of fairly simple changes on trucks, Salari said. Those include inserting a gap-seal plate between the truck and the trailer, base flaps on the side of the trailer in the rear, and an under-body device on the base of the trailer that blocks air flow beneath the truck.

The technology to reduce the aerodynamic drag still needs up to three years to complete before it can be put on the market, Salari said. But testing the truck in a wind tunnel helps speed up the process.

"This is a significant step toward reducing the United States' dependency on fossil fuels," director George Miller of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said.

The wind tunnel, which is large enough to fit a Boeing 737 plane, became operational in 1987 and functions as a test zone for parachutes, helicopters, planes and other vehicles, according to David Duesterhaus of the Ames Research Center.

Wind blows up to 100 knots in the tunnel and can simulate whatever speed is needed, Duesterhaus said.

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