Panel: Truck R&D effort needs stable funding, leadership

Federal research and development efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of commercial vehicles call for full-time executive leadership and a budgetary process that better focuses the resources of the various government departments and agencies involved. Those were the broad recommendations of a committee tasked with reviewing the 21st Century Truck Partnership (21CTP), an R&D partnership formed in 2000 by the federal government and more than a dozen industry partners, in a report released today, June 30.

Funded by four departments and agencies – the cabinet departments of Energy, Transportation and Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, the 21CTP’s mandate is finding ways to improve fuel efficiency, environmental performance and safety. The premise in creating the 21CTP was that very few U.S. truck manufacturers have the R&D resources to develop new technologies individually.

The committee reviewed 21CTP’s efforts in the areas of engines and fuels; heavy-duty hybrid vehicles; parasitic losses; engine idle reduction; and safety. The panel recommended that:

  • The Department of Energy should continue to work toward demonstrating 50 percent thermal efficiency at the peak efficiency condition as well as at a representative 65-mph road load engine speed and torque condition. DOE has concluded that the 50 percent thermal efficiency goal has been achieved, but none of the industry partners have achieved that goal at 2010 emissions standards with a complete engine system.
  • DOE should objectively assess the potential viability of low temperature combustion for heavy-duty engines, recognizing the many issues that would need to be resolved to achieve commercial viability.
  • DOE should continue to work with biodiesel developers and users to assure compatibility when biodiesel is blended with conventional diesel fuel and problem-free use of biodiesel fuels in diesel engines.
  • Military and commercial suppliers of heavy-duty hybrid vehicles should work together to expedite development of commercially viable battery or battery/ultracapacitor systems that can handle the high-power needs of heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Development and demonstration of heavy-duty hybrid truck technology should be continued as part of the 21CTP program in order to reduce barriers to commercialization.
  • Coordination of all 21CTP heavy-duty hybrid truck development and demonstration activities should be strengthened across components, programs and agencies to maximize the system benefits of the technology and to accelerate its successful deployment in commercial trucks and buses.
  • Because tax credits for hybrid trucks established in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 expire at the end of 2009, DOE should work with EPA and stakeholders to accelerate the development of fuel economy and emissions certification procedures for heavy-duty hybrid vehicles so that the benefits of hybridization can be rewarded to encourage commercial adoption.
  • Given the potential of the MorElectric program to save fuel by reducing parasitic drag on engines, the 21CTP should continue the R&D of the identified system components that will provide additional improvements.
  • The 21CTP should continue to support R&D for the technologies that reduce idle time and address the remaining technical challenges.
  • The Department of Transportation should develop a comprehensive list of current and planned heavy-duty truck safety projects and initiatives and prioritize them in order of potential benefit in reducing heavy-duty truck-related fatalities.
  • DOT should continue programs in support of heavy-duty truck onboard safety systems emphasizing accident avoidance and with priority set by a comprehensive potential cost/benefit analysis.
  • For a link to the committee’s report in PDF format, click here.