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Wal-Mart’s WAVE Concept Truck Dressed to Impress

Wal-Mart’s WAVE Concept Truck Dressed to Impress

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported in 2014 that the trucking industry spent about $147 billion on fuel. Even though we are seeing the lowest oil prices since 2009, the ATA estimates that this year the trucking sector will tally up a bill of about $105 billion in fuel charges. “Fuel is usually our first- or second-largest expense, along with labor costs,” said Sean McNally, an ATA spokesman. “Reducing fuel expenditures would be a huge benefit to trucking and to the economy.” Oil will not stay below $50 a barrel for ever, and even while it is fuel cost remains at the top of carrier’s expenditures year in and year out.

In additional to fuel costs, another hot topic in the industry is the demand to lower their carbon footprint. While the nation has seen reduced emissions over the last 7 years from newer engines, the Obama administration is pushing for even higher performing medium- to heavy-duty trucks and tractor trailers. The governing bodies hope to cut emissions by 1 billion metric tons and decrease oil usage by 1.8 billion barrels.

While some companies throw their hands in the air in frustration, others are seeking to meet and exceed the expectations of the trucking industry and the government with innovative technology, and Wal-Mart had jumped in the race. The multinational discount chain has created a test truck in an effort to reduce the amount of money truckers spend on fuel, along with some other added benefits.

The truck is called the WAVE, Wal-Mart Advanced Vehicle Experience, and is a concept truck created by the collaborative efforts of 22 international companies. The project all began in January 2011 when Wal-Mart met with several firms, including Capstone Turbine Corp. in Chatsworth. Capstone makes a microturbine motor that is small enough to fit in a standard heavy-duty freight hauler. “Wal-Mart said they were looking for the truck of the future,” said Darren R. Jamison, president and chief executive of Capstone Turbine Corp. in Chatsworth. “They didn’t want what the technology could look like next year,” he said. “They wanted to look at where it could be five years or 10 years from now.”

The truck uses a turbine-powered battery-electric hybrid drivetrain. For the non-engineers in the room, think of a microturbine engine as if it’s a tiny windmill.

Only the blades move, spinning at 96,000 revolutions per minute. Air is sucked in and heated to over 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and as it expands it keeps the blades in motion. The energy created from this machine powers the turbine as well as a generator. The truck runs on a battery for the first 30 miles until it is drained, then the microturbine engine jumps in, recharging the battery and lengthening miles traveled.

The technology Capstone uses in their engine is protected by 112 patents because it is so unique and ground-breaking. It can fun on any fuel, whether it’s diesel, propane or natural gas. Instead of metal ball bearings, it uses “air bearings”, which means there will never be a need to lubricate or replace them. Because the engine is air-cooled, it doesn’t require antifreeze or a large radiator.

Microturbine technology is currently being used in large buildings, such as hospitals and hotels, and is now in the trial stages for vehicles on a Kenworth truck and at the Port of Los Angeles. Estimates by Wal-Mart say the WAVE will cut fuel consumption by 55% on long hauls and 241% over shorter routes. Because there is no big radiator, it sports a sleek low profile with lots of storage space, making it 20% more aerodynamic. The driver enters in through a sliding door and sits in the middle of the cab, instead of the left, and is flanked by 3 LCD displays. There’s even room for a sleeper in the back.

The 53-foot-long carbon-fiber trailer weighs 10,000 pounds, about 4000 less than a standard trailer, partly due to the advanced adhesives holding it together. Wal-Mart said the carbon fiber panels on the trailer are one of a kind: it’s the longest any have ever been made. It was designed by three companies: Great Dane Trailers of Fontana, Fiber-Tech Industries Inc. of Michigan and Milliken & Co. of South Carolina.

Peterbuild Motors Co. designed the body of WAVE concept truck. Brent Hankins, an advanced concepts engineer at Peterbilt said remarked trucks such as this are becoming popular as the nation demands advanced technology, fuel efficiency and environmentally friendly vehicles. As for in medium- to heavy-duty trucks, he said, “Now that we are seeing more customer demand for hybrid-electric technology, we are starting to look at those range-extending possibilities, such as the microturbine.”

“It may never make it to the road, but it will allow us to test new technologies and new approaches,” says Walmart president and CEO Doug McMillon. It’s not the intention of Wal-Mart to produce the WAVE on a mass scale for everyday use, since it would cost about 3 times the price of a typical tractor-trailer. Rather, it’s a concept vehicle showcasing some of the most advanced technology to date and could completely change the way America ships and hauls its freight.

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