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Vehicle Thermal Management

Image of two cars and three semi cabs in a parking lot with a testing meter.

NREL testing and modeling assess the energy saving impact of advanced climate control materials and equipment on heavy-duty vehicles.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL 26770

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) works closely with vehicle manufacturers, suppliers, and fleet partners to research solutions to climate control and thermal system challenges that can reduce vehicle fuel use and emissions. The lab's thermal management research helps optimize the thermal performance of both light- and heavy-duty conventional, hybrid, and electric vehicles.

Inefficient cabin climate control can dramatically increase fuel consumption and emissions, as well as posing safety hazards due to ineffective windshield defrosting and defogging. The lab's vehicle thermal management team researches advanced approaches to climate control which increase fuel economy and decrease emissions while maintaining passenger comfort. Approaches include improvements to cabin insulation, window systems, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems.

NREL's capabilities and expertise combine thermal analysis tools, experimental methods, and thermal comfort assessment to develop effective solutions for these thermal management challenges.

Light-Duty Vehicles

The more than 232 million light-duty vehicles in the United States account for more than 59% percent of all transportation-related energy use. NREL's light-duty vehicle thermal management research develops and evaluates technologies that reduce the amount of energy needed for climate control in both conventional and electric-drive vehicles.

Heavy-Duty Vehicles

Trucks move about 72% of the 18.3 billion tons of freight transported across the United States each year. Idling these vehicles to heat and cool cab/sleeper spaces improves driver comfort and safety, but consumes large quantities of fuel and produces polluting emissions. NREL's heavy-duty vehicle thermal management research helps cut fleet operating costs, fuel consumption, and tailpipe emissions by reducing the amount of energy required to control cab temperatures.

NREL uses a range of vehicle thermal management lab facilities for research and testing. NREL also applies and when needed develops vehicle thermal management modeling tools.