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The Data around Diesel

WVU engineer studies critical knowledge gap about heavy-duty vehicles

WVU Today 

While personal vehicles that use electricity, propane or natural gas have gained popularity thanks to availability and affordability, heavy-duty vehicles like 18-wheelers and buses have been slow to change gears because of maintenance costs. 

But those vehicles, while only 5% of the traffic on the road, are responsible for 20% of transportation emissions.

West Virginia University engineer Arvind Thiruvengadam, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, said the uncertainty in maintenance and labor costs prevents fleets from considering changing gears to alternative fuels.

“Maintenance cost varies depending on how vehicles are operated, and a fleet specific estimation of maintenance cost is important to weigh the benefits of an alternative fuel vehicle compared to conventional diesel vehicles,” Thiruvengadam said. “This research directly helps in improving the energy security of the United States and reducing its dependence on fossil fuels.”

The study will involve a comprehensive data collection from vehicle fleets around the country and document vehicle maintenance cost as a function of their operation type. In addition, an in-house developed telemetry-based data logger will be used to remotely transmit vehicle operational data from the fleets to researchers at WVU.

“Not all applications of heavy-duty vehicles are the same, and some applications are better suited for alternative fuel technology than others,” Thiruvengadam said. “Illustrating this difference will help manufacturers identify and address areas for technology improvement in alternative fuel vehicles.”

Thiruvengadam is leading the $1 million research project funded by the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office through the Center for Alternative Fuels Engines and Emissions at WVU.

The project is jointly partnered with the West Virginia Office of Energy, Pittsburgh Clean Cities, Western Riverside Council of Governors, Wale Associates Corp., Coachella Valley Clean Cities and Propane Education and Research Council.