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Platooning Trucks to Cut Cost and Improve Efficiency

At first glance, platooning doesn’t look like much – just a few tractor-trailers driving down the highway a bit closer together than we’re used to. But, what is actually happening is much more complex and presents the opportunity for significant safety, energy efficiency, and cost benefits. Early studies have shown that 65% of current long-haul truck miles could potentially be platooned, reducing total truck fuel consumption by 4%.

 

 Photo Credit: Department of Transportation

What is Platooning?

So, what is truck platooning? Platooning involves the use of vehicle-to-vehicle communications and sensors, such as cameras and radar, to virtually connect two or more trucks together in a convoy. The virtual link enables all of the vehicles in the platoon to communicate with each other, allowing them to automatically accelerate together, brake together, and enables them to follow each other at a closer distance than is typically possible with unlinked trucks.

The technology detects and reacts to stopped or slow vehicles ahead of the platoon and adjusts as needed when a vehicle cuts in between the trucks in the platoon. With current platooning technology, each truck in the platoon has a human driver responsible for steering and taking over the speed and braking as needed. The driver of the first truck leads the platoon and navigates the route. As the technology improves, there may only be the need for a lead driver, or no human drivers at all.

Why do it?

Truck platooning could provide many benefits. When implemented, platooning can improve safety, increase energy efficiency, and reduce costs.

Truck platooning technology includes automatic braking. The automatic brakes are able to react much faster than a human, improving safety and reducing the likelihood of collisions. Truck platoons also take up less space on the road, and experience fewer short or sudden acceleration and braking events, than unlinked trucks. The trucks travelling closer together at smoother speeds improves traffic flow and boosts the efficiency of delivering goods.

Platooning is also a cost saver. With the trucks driving close together at a constant speed, the lead vehicle cuts through the air and reduces the amount of air hitting the front of, and flowing between, the following vehicles. This is similar to when race cars or cyclists draft off one another in a race. The reduced aerodynamic drag on all of the vehicles in the platoon means that the trucks use less fuel, which reduces operating costs.

The U.S. Army is interested in platooning technologies for the potential to reduce the number of lives at risk in combat areas. Using platooning technologies in military applications could minimize the number of soldiers needed to man convoy vehicles, resulting in a reduced number of soldiers at risk of encountering roadside bombs.

Coordinated Research

The Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office’s (VTO) Energy Efficient Mobility Systems (EEMS) Program coordinates with the U.S Army and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in this shared space to accelerate research and development. DOT’s mission is to serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system. DOT sees platooning as one way to improve the safety of trucking through collision avoidance features. VTO is interested in the potential to improve energy efficiency and cut costs for businesses and consumers through this technology.

VTO’s EEMS Program is investigating the potential impact platooning technology could have on energy use in our transportation system. Recent EEMS research done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory used telematics, or on-board data logging, to estimate the amount of platoonable miles travelled by trucks and found 65% of the miles could be platooned, resulting in a 4% reduction in total truck fuel consumption. Another recent VTO funded study assessed the energy impact of adaptive cruise control and showed that the middle truck in a platoon saves the most at shorter gaps, while the trailing truck saves the most at longer gaps.

To learn more about the Department's work on connected and automated vehicle technologies, visit the Energy Efficient Mobility Systems page on Vehicle Technologies Office website.

 

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Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists and Engineers—As We Were Inspired

Ten-year-old Leo worked in the Education Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), fitting together snap-on electrical circuits. The boy from a Denver community center was enthralled by the sheer joy of adding buzzers, lights, and switches to the device. Sitting at a desk nearby, Rhielle carefully colored a drawing of a solar panel. “I want to be everything: a singer, waitress, scientist, baker—because baking is a science,” the eight-year-old explained. Everywhere, the room buzzed with energy, as 16 grade schoolers performed experiments and talked to volunteer researchers as part of a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach connecting NREL with our local community.

It reminded me of my own start on the pathway of scientific discovery. As a high school student in Regensburg, Germany, I wondered about this exotic world of test tubes and microscopes—and so visited the office of a distinguished biologist in my hometown university. I asked if he would talk to me—but he was busy at the moment. Instead, this scientist invited me into his laboratory, where I saw first-hand some of his experiments. Later, we chatted and he gave me a basic college text.

He continued to follow me, and mentored me throughout my science studies. I’ve never forgotten that lesson about the importance of sharing science with younger minds. That is why I’m so enthusiastic about STEM learning, and support it passionately at NREL. Whenever we can engage younger students—especially those who may not have had a chance to consider science and engineering as careers—we are building our future.

Throughout the year, NREL actively engages in a range of STEM events. Last May, we held NREL’s 27th annual Junior Solar Sprint and Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) Battery Car Competitions on campus, attracting 53 teams from 18 Colorado middle schools. Maybe you’ve been to something like this. Some cars scoot, some fizzle—yet regardless of the finish, everyone gains hands-on experience. Likewise, we co-sponsored the 27th Colorado Science Bowl, giving kids a chance to test their knowledge against other aspiring young researchers. This year the Lambkins from Ft. Collins roared to victory, correctly answering a range of questions across the sciences. We were part of the first Energy Day Colorado this fall, giving academic awards to promising scholars.

Whenever we can, we try to open our doors to prospects. Hannah, a high school sophomore from Boulder, won an NREL-sponsored award at the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair. Sure, she’d already gotten a plaque made from a recycled solar panel and a stipend of $100 for a building cooling project—but we wanted to give her something more. So we arranged a campus tour so that she could talk to researchers in her field. She chatted happily, and afterwards declared, “This place is cool.” Although she has a ways to go, she was clear: because both science and NREL are now positively linked in her mind, she hopes to one day work at the lab. Now that would be cool.

Of course, we won’t know for years whether Hannah will come here, chose another national laboratory, or find a different path. Likewise, we can’t foresee whether Leo will become an electrical engineer or Rhielle seek a career as a chemist. But we do know that 3,688 students who have visited NREL this year, or gone to competitions we’ve run, have all gained exposure to STEM activities. We can’t tell immediately how much impact these encounters have had—although the smiles of students tell us a lot—but speaking from personal experience, we should be confident that this type of inspiration can last a lifetime and will build our future.

Kids enjoying STEM activities at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL)

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New Initiatives Will Use Supercomputers to Improve Transportation Energy Efficiency

DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office commits $2.5M in FY2018 funds to Big Data and High Performance Computing Initiatives.

Did you know, the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories are home to 32 of the fastest supercomputers on Earth? Scientists and researchers at the national labs use these supercomputers to accelerate research by creating models from complex data sets. Now, two new Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) initiatives - High Performance Computing for Mobility (HPC4Mobility) and Big Data Solutions for Mobility – will utilize the computing capabilities of the national labs to find solutions to real-world transportation energy challenges.

These initiatives are part of VTO’s Energy Efficient Mobility Systems (EEMS) Program. The EEMS Program’s mission is to conduct early-stage research at the vehicle, traveler, and system levels to create knowledge, tools, and solutions that increase mobility for individuals and businesses while improving transportation energy efficiency.

Big Data Solutions for Mobility

VTO’s EEMS program has launched a $2M multi-lab research initiative to develop new algorithms and big data tools that can model urban-scale transportation networks using real-world, near real-time data. The initiative will develop the data science approaches and HPC-supported framework for next-generation mobility systems modeling and operational analytics. This will deliver an understanding of transportation system efficiency opportunities that is not attainable with current approaches. Modeling informed by real-time data will allow transportation systems to respond to events such as accidents, weather, and congestion in such a way that optimizes the overall energy use of the system.

The Big Data initiative includes researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as partners from academia and industry.

HPC4Mobility

HPC4Mobility will provide cities, companies, transportation system operators, and others that qualify, access to national laboratory resources, including supercomputing facilities, data-science expertise, and machine-learning capabilities. These partnerships aim to discover opportunities for energy efficiency increases in mobility systems.

This investment supports innovative and scalable HPC4Mobility projects. These projects will uncover opportunities for energy efficiency gains by applying high-performance computing resources to emerging transportation data sets. Initial VTO funding of $500K has been provided to the participating laboratories. Each selected external partner will provide in-kind cost-share contributions.

The first year “seed” projects for HPC4Mobility include:

  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will work with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority on HPC-enabled computation of demand models at scale to predict the energy impacts of emerging mobility solutions. Possible applications include modeling the impact of autonomous vehicles on transportation energy use and the hour-by-hour impact of ride hailing services on traffic congestion.
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory will work with GRIDSMART Technologies, Inc. on reinforcement learning-based traffic control approaches to optimize energy usage and traffic efficiency.

Sponsored by DOE’s the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the High Performance Computing for Mobility (HPC4Mobility) Program is part of the larger HPC4 Energy Innovation Initiative, a Department-wide effort comprised of, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Fossil Energy, and the Office of Nuclear Energy.

To learn more about the Department's work with industry, academia, and community partners on advanced vehicle technologies, please visit the Vehicle Technologies Office website

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2018 Fuel Economy Guide Helps Consumers Save Money

A photo of a person working at a laptop with the FY18 fuel economy guide showing on the screen.Just in time for the New Year, the 2018 Fuel Economy GuidePDF is now available at FuelEconomy.gov. The guide is published annually by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offers data on current model year (MY) vehicles.

This year’s guide provides fuel economy ratings for more than 1,000 light-duty vehicles, along with projected annual fuel costs and other information for prospective purchasers. The guide, available in an electronic-only formatPDF this year, is designed to help car buyers choose the most fuel-efficient vehicles that fit their needs.

The MY 2018 Fuel Economy Guide includes fuel economy information for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles and details fuel economy leaders across several vehicle classes. Data is updated regularly as manufacturers provide additional information about MY 2018 vehicles.

 

In addition to the guide, fueleconomy.govfeatures other useful tools and information to help car buyers. The website includes “best-in-class” lists across multiple market categories and provides a Top 10 most fuel-efficient vehicle list for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and non-plug in vehicles.

For those in the market for a new or used car, the Find-a-Car feature, as well as the Find-a-Car app, allows users to search for and compare fuel efficiency data by class, make model, and year. EPA data on miles per gallon equivalent and estimated annual fuel cost are available for each vehicle. The Fuel Economy Guide provides this information for all vehicles dating back to 1984.

Users can also track their own personal fuel economy through the My MPG tool or calculate the fuel cost for a road trip. Gas Mileage Tips provide specific savings for driving more efficiently and keeping your car in shape.  

The MY 2018 Fuel Economy Guide is only available electronically (PDF). With the MY 2018 Fuel Economy Guide and FuelEconomy.gov, consumers have the tools and data available to save money on fuel, whether they are shopping for a new vehicle or making the most out of their current one. 

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3 Ways Distilled Biodiesel Can Give You a Competitive Advantage

“What are some benefits of distilled biodiesel?”


The answer is as simple as 1, 2, 3 — the benefits wholesalers, retailers and fleets get with distilled biodiesel: 

  1. Superior cold weather performance
  2. Lower carbon intensity with decreased supply and price fluctuations through feedstock flexibility
  3. Easier blending
Those are the top three benefits we’ll focus on in this article. If you want to take a deeper dive into the topic, including the science behind distillation, download our free white paper on distilled biodiesel.

Superior cold weather performance

Distilled biodiesel has advanced cold flow properties because distillation does a better job than other purification methods at removing minor components that can contribute to filter plugging. Far too often people think Cloud Point is the only thing that matters when using biodiesel in the cold. Even with a higher Cloud Point, distilled biodiesel can outperform undistilled low cloud biodiesel in cold weather.

Feedstock flexibility

The ability to create high-quality biodiesel from a variety of feedstocks — feedstock flexibility, as we call it at REG — has a couple of big advantages. One is it can provide more nimbleness in the commodity markets. If a particular feedstock is experiencing price or supply fluctuations, we can turn to another feedstock and know that our end product will still meet ASTM and customer specifications. This, of course, is good for our customers, too. 

Another advantage of feedstock flexibility is the ability to make biodiesel from feedstocks such as animal fat, used cooking oil and inedible corn oil that can allow for lower carbon intensity (CI) scores. Carbon intensity is the measure of greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing and consuming a fuel. Some of the feedstocks with favorable CI scores can result in biodiesel with a higher Cloud Point, but with Cloud Point being less of an issue with a distilled product, users can get a fuel with lower carbon intensity that helps them reach sustainability goals and also performs well in cold weather. 

So to recap, under this single benefit of feedstock flexibility comes several other advantages, including supply, price and sustainability. 

Ease of blending

You may be sensing a theme related to the removal of minor components in the distillation process — and it has yet another benefit. It helps create the purest type of biodiesel. A purer biodiesel means there are fewer minor components. Fewer minor components means less effort is required to fully mix the biodiesel molecules and petroleum diesel molecules. 

Free white paper

If you’d like to learn more about distilled biodiesel, including the distillation process and how it differs from the traditional method of purifying biodiesel, read this white paper. 

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New Tools in Transportation: AFLEET Update

Propane School Bus FuelingA newly updated version of the AFLEET Tool from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory is now available. AFLEET — short for Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation Tool — is a free publicly available tool that calculates and compares the costs and environmental benefits of a broad range of alternative fuel technologies.

The AFLEET Tool is ideally suited to aid those who make purchasing decisions for fleets as they compare vehicle technologies for emission reductions and air quality gains. This new version adds the ability to look at air pollutant emissions from well-to-wheel as it lets users evaluate not just “at-the-tailpipe” air pollutants, but also those arising from fuel production.

New AFLEET Features:

  • Idle Reduction Calculator 
  • Low-NOx engine option for CNG and LNG heavy-duty vehicles
  • Diesel in-use emissions multiplier sensitivity case
  • Well-to-pump air pollutants
  • Vehicle cycle petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutants
  • Renewable diesel vehicles
  • Electric commercial trucks
  • Updated biofuel and RNG feedstocks

Learn more about AFLEET here.

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Vehicle Technologies Office Fact of the Week

Over half of all carbon monoxide (CO) emissions in 2002 were from highway vehicles; by 2016 that fell to 30%. The share of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from highway vehicles declined from 43% of all NOx emissions in 2002 to 34% in 2016. The highway share of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions declined by 9% during this same period. Highway vehicles contributed less than 3% of all particulate matter (PM) emissions.

Highway Share of All Pollutant Emissions, 2002-2016

Graphics showing highway share of all pollutant emissions (CO, NOx, PM, and VOC) from 2001 to 2016

Note: Particulate matter emissions include both fine particle matter less than 10 microns (PM-10) and fine particle matter less than 2.5 microns (PM-2.5). Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Emissions Inventory and Air Pollutant Emissions Trends Data.Fact #998 Dataset

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5 Ways Alternative Fuels Aid Response to Hurricanes and Natural Disasters

Back-to-back hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastated parts of Houston and Florida and left millions of residents in the dark. The long lines and “out of fuel” gas station signs are reminders that most of the transportation sector still relies on gasoline and diesel. However, in a number of cities and states, alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) are playing a big role in responding to natural disasters and improving emergency preparedness.

Take a look at these five examples:

1. Hurricane Harvey temporarily knocked out nearly 30% of the nation's refining capacity. While refineries worked to recover from the storm, compressed natural gas (CNG) stations in the area were able to remain up and running. Natural gas is supplied by underground pipelines so stations can operate without a hitch throughout an emergency. Many natural gas fueling stations also come equipped with emergency natural gas-fired generators that can keep the stations running during a blackout. 

An aerial view of a shuttle bus driving on the street.

2. Atlantic City, New Jersey relied on its fleet of 190 CNG buses to shuttle residents to safety when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. While other fleets struggled with fuel shortages these shuttles were able to stay moving during and after the storm thanks to uninterrupted CNG supply.

3. Flexibility is also important for vehicles servicing critical infrastructure needs. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has a fleet of bi-fuel (gasoline and natural gas) Ford F350 pickup trucks that operate at key airports, tunnels, and bridges. Being able to run on either fuel provides fueling flexibility, as well as extended range during normal operations.

4. AFVs can also help with recovery. New Richmond, Wisconsin sent a hybrid-electric utility bucket truck as part of a mutual aid mission to help with Hurricane Sandy cleanup. These vehicles operate on battery power when stationary and allow crews to fix power lines. The battery power eliminates engine idling and saves fuel at the same time. Some companies also use biodiesel and have reserve tanks in case of emergency—this helps stretch supplies of regular diesel even further.

5. Diverse fueling options also help reduce recovery time after a disaster. Following Hurricane Sandy, Eastern Propane was able to keep their fleet of propane-powered trucks running, delivering propane to the surrounding community and helping clear tree limbs and branches along the way. In Long Island, utility operators National Grid and Long Island Power Authority used their CNG cars and trucks for infrastructure repairs and cleanup.

Alternative Fuel and Advanced Technology Vehicles Aid in Emergency Recovery Efforts

Watch: See how alternative fuels and other advanced vehicle technologies can help emergency fleets react to and recover from natural disasters. 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) supports a balanced portfolio of early-stage research and works directly with its nationwide network of Clean Cities Coalitions to enable widespread use of alternative fuels and energy efficient mobility technologies that enhance energy affordability, reliability, and resilience and strengthen U.S. energy security. Learn more about VTO’s Initiative for Resiliency in Energy through Vehicles project.

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How Does a Lithium-ion Battery Work?

Lithium-ion batteries power the lives of millions of people each day. From laptops and cell phones to hybrids and electric cars, this technology is growing in popularity due to its light weight, high energy density, and ability to recharge.

So how does it work?

This animation walks you through the process.

Animation created by Sarah Harman and Charles Joyner

The Basics

A battery is made up of an anode, cathode, separator, electrolyte, and two current collectors (positive and negative). The anode and cathode store the lithium. The electrolyte carries positively charged lithium ions from the anode to the cathode and vice versa through the separator. The movement of the lithium ions creates free electrons in the anode which creates a charge at the positive current collector.  The electrical current then flows from the current collector through a device being powered (cell phone, computer, etc.) to the negative current collector. The separator blocks the flow of electrons inside the battery.

Charge/Discharge

While the battery is discharging and providing an electric current, the anode releases lithium ions to the cathode, generating a flow of electrons from one side to the other. When plugging in the device, the opposite happens: Lithium ions are released by the cathode and received by the anode.

Energy Density vs. Power Density

The two most common concepts associated with batteries are energy density and power density. Energy density is measured in watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg) and is the amount of energy the battery can store with respect to its mass. Power density is measured in watts per kilogram (W/kg) and is the amount of power that can be generated by the battery with respect to its mass. To draw a clearer picture, think of draining a pool. Energy density is similar to the size of the pool, while power density is comparable to draining the pool as quickly as possible. 

The Vehicle Technologies Office works on increasing the energy density of batteries, while reducing the cost, and maintaining an acceptable power density. For more information on VTO’s battery-related projects, please visit www.vehicles.energy.gov

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TIGER 2017 Announced!

Funding for Local Transportation Priorities
DEADLINE: OCTOBER 16TH

Bike Lane StreetsThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced the 2017 TIGER grant applications. TIGER funding directly supports local infrastructure projects that promote safety, accessibility, mobility, and economic redevelopment. Multi-million dollar awards will be available for community-scale transportation initiatives that create jobs, enhance mobility, and improve quality of life. This is one of the best and most competitively sources of funding for transportation projects in local communities. In keeping with prior years, the minimum request for communities in an urbanized area is $5 million and a 20% match is officially required. Rural projects can request a minimum of $1 million.

On July 25, Sustainable Strategies DC organized a call between senior DOT leaders and a dozen mayors from across America to recommend improvements that will create new opportunities for small- and medium-size localities. The newly released solicitation reflects changes based upon numerous concerns that these mayors expressed, and it emphasizes projects in rural communities more than in previous years.

Sustainable Strategies DC is already working with communities nationwide to pursue these competitive funds. Based on our previous experience in winning TIGER grants and knowledge of how the program will likely change, we are helping localities develop strategies now to be most competitive for TIGER funds. Click here for more information on TIGER services that Sustainable Strategies DC provides and contact President Andrew Seth at (202) 261-9881to discuss how we can assist you with your application. The deadline to apply is October 16th, 2017

 
For information on additional opportunities, please contact Sustainable Strategies DC or click here for their website.  

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