Penn State awarded $3 million for transformational energy technology

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State was awarded $3 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to create intelligent vehicle networks that reduce the fuel used by trucks and other heavy vehicles by up to 20 percent.

The idea behind the project is that when heavy-duty vehicles traveling alone or in a fleet communicate and coordinate their actions through an intelligent vehicle-infrastructure network, they can potentially reduce their fuel consumption by up to 20 percent both in city and highway driving. The vehicles can achieve this by selecting the most fuel-efficient routes for different trips, by platooning or “drafting” behind one another to reduce aerodynamic energy losses, by coordinating their approach and departure at intersections to avoid unnecessary energy loss due to braking, and by adjusting their engine control, gear shifting, and other powertrain control actions in a predictive manner, taking into account upcoming traffic and terrain profiles.

“To aim for a 20 percent reduction in heavy-duty vehicle fuel consumption is very audacious, and only achievable through the co-optimization of different control actions, both within a given vehicle and among vehicles. We are very indebted to ARPA-E for providing us with the funding to achieve this goal, collaboratively, as a team,” said principal investigator Hosam Fathy, the Bryant Early Career Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

The effort brings together six research groups from both academia and industry. At Penn State, Fathy is providing expertise in optimal vehicle energy management; Sean Brennan is providing expertise in vehicle connectivity and automation; and Stephanie Stockar is providing expertise in engine and powertrain control. Volvo is a major industrial project partner, providing expertise in vehicle powertrain and chassis innovation, as well as in technology commercialization. Finally, MIT and UNC Charlotte are major academic project partners, providing expertise in intelligent vehicle-infrastructure systems through Domitilla Del Vecchio’s lab at MIT, and also in hierarchical optimal control through Chris Vermillion’s lab at UNC Charlotte.

“It is pretty well-established that technologies – such as platooning and predictive powertrain control – can individually reduce heavy-vehicle fuel consumption”, said Fathy. “What is truly exciting about this project is the degree to which it will allow us to combine inter-vehicle communication, coordinated control, and vehicle optimization at both the chassis and powertrain levels to achieve fuel consumption reduction levels that are impossible to achieve with these technologies individually.”

Penn State received the competitive award from ARPA-E’s NEXT-Generation Energy Technologies for Connected and Automated On-Road Vehicles (NEXTCAR) program, which seeks to leverage vehicle connectivity and automation technologies to optimize vehicle controls and powertrain operation. Using vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-everything technologies, NEXTCAR projects will enable better communication between and coordination of vehicle-level and powertrain-level actions, improving individual vehicle and, ultimately, fleet efficiency. In all, 10 new projects were awarded a total of $32 million in funding.

“We are pleased to be working with ARPA-E and the other partners on this project. I am confident that our faculty can make an impact through their expertise to reduce the fuel consumption of heavy duty vehicles,” said Karen Thole, head of mechanical and nuclear engineering at Penn State.

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Last Updated December 08, 2016