Research Helps Drivers Cut Fuel Use

Researchers find that real-time eco-driving can cut fuel consumption up to 6 percent.

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RIVERSIDE, Calif.—Ever wonder how much fuel you can save by avoiding stop-and-go traffic, closing your window, not using air conditioning or coasting toward stops?

Research at the University of California, Riverside’s College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) can give you the answers.

The research field is called eco-driving, which refers to providing drivers with advice and feedback to minimize fuel consumption when driving.

Eco-driving, which has been practiced for years in Europe and is part of the driver education curricula there, is now receiving a lot of attention in the United States because of calls to increase fuel economy standards and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“This is a really big deal,” said Matthew Barth, the director of CE-CERT and the Yeager Families Professor of Electrical Engineering. “Automobile manufacturers are doing anything possible to make cars more fuel efficient.”

Much of the eco-driving research at UC Riverside and other University of California campuses, including UC Berkeley, focuses on using an on-board eco-driving device, similar to a GPS unit, which provides instantaneous fuel economy feedback under real-world driving conditions.

In a study last year, 20 drivers in the Riverside area used the eco-driving device, known as Eco-Way, for their daily commute for two weeks. Researchers found it improved fuel economy by 6 percent on city streets and 1 percent on highways.

Eco-driving studies in Europe, most of them conducted in pre-planned driving courses, have found fuel economy improvements between 5 and 15 percent.

A survey provided to the Riverside area drivers found that most are willing to adopt eco-driving practices in the near future. On a one to 10 scale, with 10 being the most likely to adopt, the average score from drivers was 7.4. The survey also found 95 percent of drivers would adopt eco-driving strategies if gasoline reaches $4.40 per gallon.

The study was performed by Kanok Boriboonsomin, an assistant research engineer at CE-CERT; Alexander Vu, a junior development engineer at CE-CERT; and Barth.

Those same engineers are now working with researchers at UC Berkeley and UC Davis on a follow-up study in the Bay area, which is funded by the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS) Multi-Campus Research Program and Initiative on Sustainable Transportation and ITS Davis’ Honda Endowment for New Mobility Studies.

During the study, participants will use 10 eco-driving devices for two months at a time, said Susan Shaheen, the principal director of the study and co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley.

Subjects will take a pre-survey at the beginning of their participation and a post-survey at the end. The study will last eight months and collect data on about 30 participants.

Meanwhile, UC researchers are hoping to obtain funding from federal agencies to conduct a larger-scale eco-driving study, which would likely involve hundreds of vehicles, Barth said.

The study in the Bay area is a public-private partnership that includes UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC Davis and Earthrise Technology, a division of Digisec Group. Earthrise, based in Redwood City, specializes in hardware and software components of eco-driving technology; it subsidized the cost of the devices for the study and programmed them according to the needs of the project.

Earthrise also worked with researchers at CE-CERT at UC Riverside on the study completed last year.

On the suggestion UC Berkeley researchers, in Dec. 2009, Earthrise President Jim Disanto approached the researchers at CE-CERT. Disanto, who had studied about a dozen eco-driving and eco-routing systems developed throughout the world, was impressed by what he saw at UC Riverside.

“They were the only ones with a comprehensive and robust system that actually worked,” Disanto said. “They captured all the relative inputs and developed a robust algorithm which effectively modeled and predicted vehicle fuel consumption and emissions across a wide range of operating conditions.”