Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Tractor Trailer Drag Reduction(ST6436-1)

Clarkson University


A large portion of the energy consumed by a tractor-trailer is used to overcome aerodynamic drag. Significant components of this drag are due to the trailer's squared-off aft end, which at highway speeds gives rise to a large region of low pressure that retards the trailer's forward motion, and to the gap between the tractor and trailer, which generates significant turbulence. Various researchers have developed add-on devices to reduce these problems, but little progress has been made in getting the market to adopt solutions. The challenge is to develop devices that are reasonably well optimized aerodynamically, but that also satisfy a variety of other technical and economic criteria. Clarkson University has developed drag-reduction designs that may satisfy market requirements and potentially can provide significant fuel economy gains.

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Project Description

In Phase 1, Clarkson performed wind tunnel tests and computer simulations to identify the basic configuration for a device to reduce drag at the rear of the trailer. Configurations of interest include "non-ventilated plate-cavity" devices studied by prior researchers at NASA and elsewhere. Clarkson also built full-size prototypes for road tests, which roughly validated basic performance predictions. In Phase 2, Clarkson performed additional wind tunnel tests and optimization studies, and developed a detailed final design that was a first pass at meeting all market requirements. In Phase 3, Clarkson will work with its commercialization partner, Advanced Transit Dynamics, Inc., to build prototypes and perform full-scale fleet tests with potential customers. Clarkson also will perform design and prototyping tasks to define additional devices for reducing other types of aerodynamic energy losses.


Improving a tractor-trailer's fuel economy by 0.5 mpg, from a baseline of 6 mpg, can produce annual fuel savings of more than 1,000 gallons and would reduce air pollution. Nationwide, fuel savings could eventually reach 1 billion gallons per year. The subject product appears to have good potential for commercialization, which would produce jobs in New York State.

Project Results


Clarkson University
Attn: Comptroller's Office Po Box 5546
Potsdam, NY 13699

Principle Investigator

Ken Visser

Universities Involved

Clarkson University


Project Type:

Product Development

Technologies Types:

Med/Heavy Duty

NYSERDA Contact Information

Joseph Wagner


R&D -Transport & Power Systems

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST6436-1

Last Updated: 9/11/2014