OSU Advantage: Sustainable Semis

Partnership with Daimler Trucks North America produces carbon-fiber prototype
Sustainable Semis Illustration

Illustration by Leslie Herman

Like the auto industry, trucking companies are looking for new ways to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. A partnership between Oregon State University and Daimler Trucks North America is making inroads by developing an 18-wheeler that combines high strength for heavy payloads and increased fuel efficiency for sustainable performance.

Part of the Super Truck program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and Daimler, this effort already has yielded promising early results: a prototype carbon-fiber chassis rail and an innovative design for cruise control. The partnership began in 2009 when Daimler contacted John Parmigiani, a research assistant professor in Oregon State’s School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (MIME), seeking ideas. Daimler is the leading commercial truck manufacturer in North America.

Parmigiani led a research project to replace the rails, key chassis components that run from front to back, with lighter materials. By using carbon fiber — the same material used for rocket nose cones — instead of steel, Daimler achieved significant weight reduction.

“Carbon fiber is a great material to use. The weight difference is amazing.”

— John Parmigiani

The partnership with Oregon State was a positive experience, says Derek Rotz, a senior manager in advanced engineering for Daimler — so positive, in fact, that the company hired Brian Benson, one of the graduate students who worked on the project.

“We learned a lot about the design,” Rotz adds. “There still needs to be more work done before we put the carbon fiber rails into mass production, because they are more expensive.”

The next step will be to integrate the rails into a production prototype. Headquartered in Portland, Daimler Trucks North America manufactured 141,000 vehicles in 2012. Its brands include Freightliner, Western Star, Freightliner Custom Chassis, Thomas Built Buses and Detroit.

In a separate project, MIME professor Kagan Tumer used “intelligent systems” to create an adaptive cruise control that improves fuel efficiency.

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THE OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY ADVANTAGE delivers bottom-line benefits for business through access to career-ready graduates and world-class research. To discover what the Venture Accelerator and the Industry Partnership Program can do for your business, contact Ron Adams, Executive Associate Vice President for Research, Oregon State University, A312 Kerr Administration Building, Corvallis, OR 97331, 541-737-7722.

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