Lavalle trucks from Potsdam hit the road to test Clarkson-developed fuel saver
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - 11:58 am

POTSDAM -- For more than 11 years, Clarkson University has conducted research on reducing the drag of Class 8 vehicle tractor-trailers, and that research is being put to use on the road.

Among those participating in the research with trucks is Lavalle Transportation of Potsdam.

Under Clarkson Associate Professor Kenneth D. Visser, undergraduate and graduate students have conducted wind tunnel experiments and full-scale prototype tests to improve the fuel mileage of these large transport vehicles.

The concept has now reached a commercialization stage, supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and a partnership with ATDynamics .

This week, as part of the NYSERDA-funded research effort, Visser and his students are teaming up with Lavalle Transportation Inc. (LTI) to fleet test units from ATD on the local trucking fleet.

Ten Lavalle trailers will be equipped with the ATD TrailerTail units and run for the next several months. Fuel savings as well as operational issues will be monitored.

"As a tractor-trailer moves down the highway, the large flat back surface of the trailer creates a large area of low-pressure suction that pulls back on the trailer," says Visser. "For the U.Ss trucking industry, tails on trailers will reduce the fuel burned to overcome this suction drag by billions of gallons.

"Seeing an idea go from models and testing in the lab to a full-scale usable concept is what engineering is all about to me. We are very thankful to NYSERDA and ATDynamics for their support and look forward to the day when every trailer is equipped with these devices.

"This is really where the rubber hits the road so to speak. The real effectiveness of such a concept has to be evaluated under real-world operating conditions, including many loading/unloading operations, inclement weather, operator interaction and the like."

Visser says that in the late 1990s, no one expressed any interest in the research. However, local trucking firm Lavalle Transportation Inc. worked with Clarkson undergraduates to road test the first large-scale prototype, driving it across the country and confirming the wind tunnel data.

ATD reports early tests showed fuel use dec;lining by about 6.5 percent.

Returning to the U.S. from organizing a recent conference on heavy vehicle aerodynamics in Potsdam, Germany, Visser reported that interest in fuel savings in the U.S. is increasing, but is also spawning companies like Ephicas in Europe where different transportation laws require different solutions.

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