Volvo to harness kinetic energy to cut fuel bills 06 July 2012

Volvo has unveiled a novel approach to cutting fuel consumption on heavy trucks that intelligently harnesses their kinetic energy to assist with propelling the vehicles.

Amusingly called I-See, Volvo's new system is controlled much like an autopilot – taking over gear-changing and using gradients to save fuel when engaged, according to the gradients it 'sees'.

Anders Eriksson, product developer at Volvo Trucks, explains that kinetic energy – the mechanical work needed to reduce an object's speed to zero – is a powerful resource. Hence so many manufacturers attempts to store kinetic energy, instead of releasing it as surplus heat.

"If kinetic energy can be exploited to a greater extent, it may help cut fuel consumption," states Eriksson. "This will benefit both the environment and the economy, something that is very important today as fuel costs are becoming an increasingly heavy burden on haulage firms."

Volvo's system harnesses the truck's kinetic energy to push the vehicle up hills, while on downhill gradients the energy is used to assist acceleration.

I-See is linked to the transmission's tilt sensor and hence obtains information about the local road topography digitally. However, Volvo argues that the fact that its system is not dependent on maps makes it more dependable, since it always obtains the latest information. I-See can recall about 4,000 gradients, corresponding to a distance of 5,000 km (3,100 miles).

"I-See is an autopilot linked to the truck's cruise control, taking over and handling gear-changes, accelerator and brakes on gradients, ensuring they all operate in the most fuel-efficient way possible," explains Hayder Wokil, product manager at Volvo Trucks.

"I-See freewheels as much as possible – so on certain stretches of road no fuel is used at all," he adds.

"In this way fuel consumption can be cut by up to 5%, a figure based on the results of simulations and tests on public roads," continues Wokil.

"I-See works best in undulating terrain," comments Eriksson. "With moderately long and steep slopes, I-See ensures that you can freewheel for long distances without using the engine.

"It is this freewheeling capability that makes the system special," he adds. "When the truck rolls freely, virtually no fuel is used. But in order to freewheel, a whole lot of data is required."

Eriksson makes the point that it's all about precision. "For instance, you have to know whether your speed will drop or increase over the next stretch of road. A gradient of just a few per cent can be the decisive factor," he explains.

Other factors that make a difference include air resistance and the truck's weight – aspects that well trained drivers deal with unthinkingly. "I-See imitates the driving style of good drivers," comments Wokil.

"They utilise the vehicle's kinetic energy, accelerate in time and avoid unnecessary gear-changing," he continues, "But unlike a driver, I-See never gets tired."

He also suggests that the system will allow even good drivers to focus more on the surrounding traffic.

The bottom line: "For a truck in normal operation, covering 140,000km [87,000 miles] a year, the saving will be about 1,000 litres of fuel annually. This makes a big difference to the haulage firm's profitability."

Operators can expect to see I-See on the market during 2013.

Brian Tinham

Related Companies
Volvo Group UK Ltd

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