Driving down freight emissions

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Researchers at the EPSRC Centre for Sustainable Road Freight (SRF) at the University of Cambridge, working with leading supermarket chain, Waitrose, have developed a more aerodynamic trailer design for articulated vehicles – cutting fuel consumption and pollution by around seven per cent.

  • New freight trailer design results in 14 per cent reduction in aerodynamic drag and three to six per cent reduction in rolling resistance
  • Modified vehicles consume seven per cent less fuel, resulting in lower CO2 emissions
  • Waitrose has already added 36 of the modified trucks to its fleet

To accurately gauge how the truck moves through the air, the SRF team used a novel water tank test facility. The team created a short video to show this research in action.

A vital feature of the SRF’s work is its close links with the freight industry, which has invested £1.4 million in an industrial consortium comprising freight operators such as DHL, John Lewis Partnership, Tesco and Wincanton, as well as vehicle industry partners including Firestone, Goodyear, Haldex and Volvo. These companies help set the research agenda as well as the pace in the adoption of results.

With fuel representing, on average, 45 per cent of operating costs, and with aggressive emission-reduction targets set by government, the road freight industry has substantial incentives to minimise its use of energy.

David Cebon, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Sustainable Road Freight, says: “The research not only demonstrates a successful collaboration between academia and industry; it is also important evidence for government which, under the 2008 Climate Change Act, has committed the UK to reducing its emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050.”

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Stemming from early EPSRC-supported research at Cambridge by a team of students led by Professor Holger Babinsky, the blueprint for the new trailer design was developed through systematic wind tunnel testing aimed at optimising aerodynamic performance, followed by further testing supported by the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), as part of a programme to encourage road haulage operators in the UK to buy and test low carbon commercial vehicles.

The research project, which has received further support from Innovate UK and the Office for Low Emissions, was used as a case study in the UK government’s Clean Growth Strategy, published in October 2017.