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New tool targets fuel efficiency for trucks

Jeff Caldwell 05/22/2012 @ 2:32pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

The automotive industry has rolled out a lot of new systems and tools in recent years to boost fuel efficiency in passenger cars in the U.S.

But, it's medium- and heavy-duty trucks where the biggest potential improvement in fuel efficiency lies, a recent report shows. Trucks chew through a lot more miles, in general, than passenger cars in the U.S. today, and as such, represent a more fruitful opportunity to trim fuel usage, says Ian Wright, CEO of a company called Wrightspeed that manufactures a new type of electric-drive truck engine that includes an on-board generator to produce power on-the-go.

"For electric drive to make economic sense, you have to displace enough fuel to pay for the technology," continues Wright. "That pretty much rules out passenger cars, because they don't burn enough fuel. Medium-duty trucks on commercial routes burn thousands of gallons of fuel annually."

A new hybrid system Wrightspeed's developing, called the Route, employs a "range-extended electric vehicle (REV) powertrain alongside a conventional diesel or natural gas engine. As such, company research shows a truck that would ordinarily get 12 miles/gallon can get almost 4 times that. Compared to the gains in fuel efficiency with similar technology on passenger cars, that makes a lot bigger difference to overall fuel consumption.

"Urban cars average 12 miles per hour and drive an average of 12 hours per week. That's 7,500 miles per year. If that car got 100 mpg, it would burn 75 gallons annually. If that car were to replace a 40 mpg hybrid, which would burn, under the same conditions, 188 gallons, the fuel savings would be 113 gallons per year," according to a report from Wrightspeed. "However, the Route can get trucks 44 MPG (cost equivalent) at an average of 30,000 miles per year at, that's 700 gallons. When the Route replaces an 8 MPG conventional powertrain that burns 3,750 gallons annually, the fuel savings is 3,050 gallons. That's 27 times more fuel saved."

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