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Department of Energy Supercomputer Helps Design More Efficient Big Rigs

February 8, 2011 - 12:00am

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Washington, DC - BMI Corporation, a company in South Carolina, in partnership with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has successfully developed a technology that will make semi trucks more fuel efficient with the potential to save millions of gallons of fuel. Utilizing the nation's most powerful computer, BMI Corp designed a SmartTruck UnderTray System, a set of integrated aerodynamic fairings that improve the aerodynamics of 18-wheeler (Class 8) long-haul trucks.  If all 1.3 million Class 8 trucks in the U.S. were configured with these components, companies could achieve annual savings of 1.5 billion gallons of diesel fuel - approximately equal to $5 billion in costs - and reductions of CO2 by 16.4 million tons.

"The Department of Energy's supercomputers provide an enormous competitive advantage for the United States," said Secretary Steven Chu.  "This is a great example of how investments in innovation can help lead the way to new jobs, new ways of cutting our carbon emissions, and new opportunities for America to succeed in the global marketplace."

The work on ORNL's Cray XT-5 "Jaguar" supercomputer shortened the computing turnaround time for BMI's complex models from days to a few hours and eliminated the need for costly and time-consuming physical prototypes. In all, running simulations on Jaguar allowed BMI to go from concept to a design that could be turned over to a manufacturer in 18 months instead of the 3½ years they had anticipated.

With installation of BMI's SmartTruck UnderTray System to improve the aerodynamics of Class 8 long-haul trucks, the typical big rig can achieve fuel savings of between 7 and 12 percent, easily meeting the new California Air Resources Board mandate that calls for a minimum mileage improvement of 5 percent.

BMI's work with the Department was made possible through ORNL's Industrial High-Performance Computing Partnerships Program, supported by the Department's Office of Science. Through this effort, BMI was able to access Jaguar, which has a theoretical peak computational capability of 2.3 petaflops (2.3 quadrillion mathematical operations per second) making it more than 100,000 times more powerful than a typical home laptop.

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