OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Even though tractor trailers only make up about four percent of all vehicles on the road, they use more than 25 percent of all fuel consumed in the United States.
Because of that, a massive effort has been underway to make them more fuel efficient, and East Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has had a big part in finding that solution.
"Every time they fill up, they're filling up 100 to 250 gallons of fuel and their fuel economy is only 6.5 miles per gallon," said David Koeberlein of Cummins, Inc., one of the largest tractor trailer manufacturers in the country.
That low fuel efficiency is the problem the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy tasked ORNL and Cummins with fixing.
Now, after three years of work, they've done it.
Tuesday, they unveiled the SuperTruck at Oak Ridge National Lab.
The newly designed tractor trailer, with an advanced technology engine, gets 10.7 miles per gallon. That's a 75 percent fuel efficiency increase.
It's a huge advancement for the trucking industry, as the potential cost savings per truck in huge.
"Twenty-seven thousand dollars a year is what we could save a truck company by adopting the technology that we've shown on these SuperTrucks," said Koeberlein, Cummins' principal investigator in the SuperTruck project.
If the SuperTruck becomes the standard, the US could consume nearly 300 million fewer barrels of oil per year.
"That means if every truck in the nation would be switched over today, we would save 30 billion dollars in fuel cost," said Claus Daniel, deputy director of ORNL's Sustainable Transportation Program.
ORNL helped create the SuperTruck by creating a special laser-based probe to allow them to see inside tractor trailer engines.
"We made a laser based instrument that could improve the uniformity of the combustion from cylinder to cylinder and cycle to cycle," said Bill Partridge, a distinguished research staff member of ORNL.
Koeberlein says the SuperTruck prototype cost about $1 million to build.
ORNL says while 10.7 miles per gallon may not sound like a lot, considering the size and weight of a tractor trailer, including the thousands of additional pounds of cargo they typically carry, the increase is equivalent to 120 miles per gallon for the average car.