Press Release 017/2015

Test Rig for Commercial Vehicles: Efficient Operation of Air Conditioning Systems

KIT Scientists Develop New Operation Strategies for Efficient Air Conditioning of Vehicles. New Test Rig Saves Time and Costs
To test air conditioning systems, the driver’s cab is exposed to realistic conditions. (Photo: Markus Breig, KIT)

Truck drivers are at the wheel for up to ten hours a day. A comfortable climate in the driver’s cab is of decisive importance to the driver’s performance and driving safety. However, air conditioning systems may increase fuel consumption by up to ten percent depending on the type of vehicle, the type of air conditioning system, and the operation conditions. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) therefore develop more efficient operation strategies. To test these strategies under realistic conditions with a reasonable time and cost expenditure, they designed a new test rig.


“Most car drivers know that switching on the air conditioning system makes the engine run more slowly, the car becomes less sportive,” says Michael Frey of the Institute of Vehicle System Technology (FAST) of KIT. By means of a smart control, the energy released while a car coasts to a stop might be used to operate the air conditioning system at increased power. When the car starts up, by contrast, it would be more efficient to throttle the air conditioning system and to supply the engine with full energy. To optimize the interaction of vehicle, air conditioning system, and environmental factors, the researchers developed a new test rig. Here, test series of several weeks duration can be carried out at low costs.


Actual energy consumption of an air conditioning system cannot be determined separately: “Its efficiency among others depends on the driving mode of the vehicle and the surrounding climate conditions, such as solar irradiation, air temperature, and air humidity,” Frey says. In humid tropical climate zones, the air conditioning system has to work much harder than, for example, in moderate Scandinavia. In addition, the size of the driver’s cab and the utilization scheme of commercial vehicles play an important role. Parcel services use vans, the doors of which are opened and closed repeatedly. In long-distance traffic, the engine is operated continuously over longer terms. The new test rig for air conditioning systems models the conditions on the road as realistically as possible, while minimizing the technical expenditure and energy consumption. “The temperature in the driver’s cab is influenced mainly by the climatic parameters of the air flowing into the cabin, by the heating of the roof, and solar irradiation through the windows,” Michael Fritz explains, who developed the new test rig as part of his doctoral thesis at FAST. Hence, it is sufficient to arrange special spotlights simulating the spectrum of sunlight around the driver’s cabin only and not around the complete truck.


The test rig for air conditioning systems is based on a four-wheel roller dynamometer: The truck stands on four separately driven rollers that realistically simulate the forces acting on the truck during different driving situations. “Then, we switch on several air ducts. They blow the desired air-conditioned wind towards all relevant truck parts,” Fritz says. “Temperature, humidity, and the air flow rate can be adapted.” The sunlight falling through the cabin windows of a truck is simulated by six spotlights. To heat up the cabin roof, the researchers use cheaper infrared light.


With such a test rig, air conditioning systems can be tested more quickly and at much lower costs than on the road or in a climatic wind tunnel. “Contrary to a road test, the driver’s cab can be exposed to any weather-dependent and geographical conditions,” Fritz explains. This can also be done in climatic wind tunnels, but they are designed for tests of the complete vehicle and, hence, require up to ten times more spotlights and much larger blowers. The energy and personnel costs are accordingly high. The new test rig of FAST concentrates on the driver’s cab, as a result of which the costs can be reduced considerably.


The test rig was developed within the framework of the Ph.D. research group Project House “e-drive” established by KIT in cooperation with Daimler AG and Behr GmbH & Co. KG.


The Mobility Systems Center pools KIT activities relating to vehicle technology. Presently, 40 KIT institutes with about 800 employees are working on methodological and technical fundamentals for tomorrow’s vehicles. It is their objective to develop concepts, technologies, methods, and processes for future mobility considering the complex interactions of vehicle, driver, traffic, infrastructure, and society.

Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 10,000 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,800 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

lcp, 20.02.2015

Margarete Lehné
Chief Press Officer (acting)
Phone: +49 721 608-41105
Fax: +49 721 608-43658
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Contact for this press release:

Margarete Lehné
Press Officer
Phone: +49 721 608-41157
Fax: +49 721 608-41157
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