Thinking Tech

Supercomputer helps turn big-rigs into energy efficient 'SmartTrucks'

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Energy efficient big-rig trucks might may hit the highways much sooner than anticipated, thanks to the nation's fastest supercomputer.

Energy efficient big-rig trucks might may hit the highways much sooner than anticipated -- thanks to the nation's fastest supercomputer.

BMI Corporation and Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have teamed up to develop the SmartTruck UnderTray System, a set of finely-tuned wind deflectors that when installed make 18-wheeler (Class 8) long-haul trucks more aerodynamic. The Department of Energy reports that the technology has the  potential to cut diesel fuel use by of 1.5 billion gallons of diesel fuel and carbon dioxide emissions by 16.4 million tons.

South Carolina-based BMI Corporation used the United States' fastest supercomputer, the Cray XT-5 "Jaguar" supercomputer, to design the SmartTruck system. The powerful 1.75 petaflop Jaguar supercomputer, housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, allowed researchers to run simulations to test the technology and skip altogether the lengthy process of building physical prototypes. Now the design can go from concept to production in just 1.5 years instead of the 3.5 years researchers had expected it would take.

"We were able to run simulations based on the most complex tractor and trailer models instead of simplified models, and we were able to run them faster," said Mike Henderson, BMI's chief executive officer and founder.

A new California Air Resources Board law requires that Class 8 big rigs improve minimum mileage by at least 5 percent. Trucks outfitted with the undertray system can exceed those requirements and achieve fuel savings of between 7 and 12 percent.

"The Department of Energy's supercomputers provide an enormous competitive advantage for the United States," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  "This is a great example of how investments in innovation can help lead the way to new jobs, new ways of cutting our carbon emissions, and new opportunities for America to succeed in the global marketplace."

(via The Department of Energy)

Photos: BMI

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure