Transforming heavy vehicles for more energy-efficient freight
An EU-funded research project has developed innovations in truck and semi-trailer design that could increase energy efficiency by up to 25 %, supporting the EU's goal of improving the sustainability of Europeean transport sector.
© Volvo Technology, 2017
The transport of freight in Europe, whether raw materials or finished goods, is still predominantly carried out by road, with goods moved by road accounting for as much as 75 % of freight transported within the EU. Moreover, road freight transport is expected to continue to play a predominant role in the multimodal freight transport network.
In its 2011 Transport Policy White Paper, the European Commission sets out its plans to develop and promote transport policies that are efficient, safe, secure and sustainable, including the goal of cutting transport emissions by 60 % by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. This must be achieved if we are to limit global warming to a rise in temperature of just 2ºC.
Improving the energy performance of transport, including heavy-duty vehicles, was identified as one of the routes that could contribute to reaching this objective. The EU-funded TRANSFORMERS project, which falls under the European Green Vehicles Initiative, tackled this challenge head-on, bringing together 13 partners from six European countries to look at ways of improving the energy efficiency of semi-trailers and trucks.
“Current semi-trailer combinations are very much a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, being optimised for a limited number of cases and not sufficiently adaptable for the significant variations we see in ratio of weight to volume,” says project coordinator Paul Adams of Volvo in Sweden.
Modular energy savings
TRANSFORMERS focused on road tractor and semi-trailer combinations transporting palletised goods on regional to long-haul missions over more than 300 km. Its main aims were to reduce fuel consumption and increase load optimisation, which it did through three main innovations.
The first was the development of a distributed, trailer-mounted hybrid-on-demand (HoD) electric drivetrain mounted on the trailer. This recuperates energy during braking and uses it to provide supplementary power to the conventional drivetrain when needed.
The second innovation looked at ways to change the shape of the vehicle in order to improve its aerodynamics depending on the weight and volume of the goods to be transported. Energy savings of as much as 8 % can be achieved using this approach.
Furthermore, the project partners looked at ways of optimising loading capacity by using an easily adaptable modular double floor within the trailer itself with other innovations to increase cargo capacity within current regulations. Overall, energy savings of up to 25 % were achieved through these innovations.
“In the TRANSFORMERS project, we successfully developed and demonstrated a range of innovations to improve transport efficiency within the road haulage industry, combining them in semi-trailer units that are easily mission-adaptable.”
A prototype HoD trailer produced as part of the project won the European Transport Award for Sustainability 2018. In addition, much of the work carried out within the project will be further developed in the Horizon 2020 funded AEROFLEX project, which will continue to develop the next generation of long-distance road transport vehicles.