Energy 101: Heavy Duty Vehicle Efficiency

You are here

Although Class 8 Trucks only make up 4% of the vehicles on the road, they use about 20% of the nation's transportation fuel. In this video, learn how new fuel-efficient technologies are making our country's big rigs quieter, less polluting, more energy-efficient, and less expensive to operate over time.

Text Version

Below is the text version for the Energy 101: Heavy Duty Vehicle Efficiency video. 

The words “Energy 101 Heavy Duty Vehicle Efficiency” appears on the screen, followed by a montage of semi-trucks on a freeway.

They haul, they pick up, and they deliver almost everything we use. Nearly everything we eat, wear, even throw away is delivered by a heavy duty vehicle.

Footage of an energy efficient super truck with the U.S. Department of Energy logo on the side.

And over the past few decades, these vehicles have come a long way in becoming more efficient—using less oil and generating less pollution. New and improved truck technology is hitting the road, saving us natural resources and money.

Footage of several semi-trucks parked at a truck stop, followed by a graphic saying, “Class 8 Trucks Use ~20% of Fuel in the U.S.”

About 80% of our nation’s goods are transported by big class 8 trucks. You see them on the highways everywhere you go and, even though they only make up 4% of the vehicles on the road, they use about 20% of the nation’s transportation fuel.  That means there’s huge potential for savings.

Footage of a supertruck in a warehouse, followed by a graphic saying, “50% More Efficient,” followed by footage of the supertruck driving on the freeway with graphics saying, “Save 300 Million Barrels of Oil/Year,” “Save $30 Billion/Year in Fuel Costs,” and “Operators Save ≈ $20,000/Year”

Check out this supertruck. It features new fuel-efficient technologies that make it 50% more efficient than the average truck. If all class 8 trucks adopted these fuel-efficient technologies, we could save 300 million barrels of oil a year and save $30 billion annually in fuel costs.  And because many of these vehicles travel over 100,000 miles each year, individual operators could save about $20,000 dollars a year on fuel.

Footage of the supertruck upclose, followed by graphics saying, “Advanced Combustion Engine,” “Hybridization,” “Aerodynamic Features,” and “Light-Weighting”

There are several different ways to improve the fuel efficiency of these big rigs: advanced combustion engines, hybridization, aerodynamic improvements, and lightweighting to name a few.

Footage of the supertruck’s engine and exhaust pipe, followed by graphics saying, “Advanced Combustion Engine,” “Waste Heat Recovery System,” “Low Temperature Combustion.”

Let’s start with the engine. With an advanced combustion engine, fuel burns more efficiently because it is injected precisely and at very high pressures into the combustion chamber.  Also, some of the heat that comes out of the exhaust pipe can be reused in a waste heat recovery device to produce more work and reduce the demands on the engine. Another advanced combustion process known as low temperature combustion burns the fuel at a much lower temperature than a conventional engine. When fuel burns cooler, it burns more efficiently and cleaner.

Footage of the supertruck on the road.

In fact an engine like this can make a truck like this 20% more fuel efficient— a dramatic increase.

Footage of a man beginning to fuel the supertruck at a gas pump, followed by a graphic that says, “Ultra-Low Sulfur Disel Fuel 15 ppm Sulfur Maximum, Required for use in all model year 2007 and later highway diesel vehicles and engines. Recommended for use in all diesel vehicles and engines.”

Another improvement comes from the fuel itself.  Today's diesel fuel has less sulfur than previous blends.  This ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel allows engines to use better aftertreatment technologies that clean up tailpipe emissions, as well as advanced technologies that improve efficiency.

Footage of the supertruck on the road, followed by the supertruck parked in a warehouse.

And while advancements under the hood help increase fuel efficiency, the actual shape of the truck can save energy too.

Footage of the supertruck’s aerodynamic capabilities, followed by a graphic saying, “Aerodynamic Features.”

Using the latest improvements in aerodynamics, supertrucks have streamlined bodies to cut through the wind, creating much less drag. Supertrucks are also built with durable, lightweight materials, high-efficiency tires, and equipment that limit the need for engine idling time.  These all help boost a supertruck’s efficiency.

Footage of semi-trucks at a shipping yard.

And it’s not just the highways that are becoming more energy efficient, it’s also the trucks in our shipping yards.

Footage of a man plugging in the semi-truck into an electrical grid, followed by a graphic saying, “100% Electric Class 8 Truck.”

This class 8 truck plugs into the electrical grid and runs purely on electricity.  As a result, it’s quiet and environmentally friendly! 

Footage of the drive system, followed by footage of the truck driving around the shipping yard and a graphic saying, “60–120 Mile Range.”

And the drive system built into this truck is providing 60–120 miles of range under normal operating conditions with a 3–4 hour recharge time.

Montage of several vehicles driving around the shipping yard, followed by a graphic saying, “Natural Gas Truck Fleet.”

On a larger scale, this Port of Los Angeles is also using hundreds of natural gas vehicles, supported by an Energy Department project. All of these vehicles are helping clear the air for nearby neighborhoods, which suffer from some of the worst air quality in the country.

Montage of different supertrucks on the freeway and the shipping yard.

From the busiest highways to our bustling ports, heavy duty, low-emissions vehicles can bring us the goods and services we rely on every day in a cleaner, more sustainable way.

[End of Audio]

White screen with the words, “Energy 101 Heavy Duty Vehicle Efficiency, For more information visit: