When researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) need a place to test vehicle emissions, they don’t have to go far — one of the largest drive-in environmental chambers in the United States is housed at Texas A&M University’s Riverside Campus. But the Environmental and Emissions Research Facility (EERF) does more than just emissions testing. Its large size and temperature-controlled environment make possible many other types of research projects as well.
“Right now we have a company here testing its laser-cutting machine, which is used by various manufacturers in the transportation field,” says TTI Research Specialist Jeremy Johnson, the facility’s manager. “The machine is very large and weighs 12 tons. The company wants to make sure it continues to operate at extreme temperatures. The chamber is perfect for this type of test.”
TTI opened the EERF in Bryan, Texas, in January 2010. The development of the facility resulted from competitive grants awarded to TTI from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Houston Advanced Research Center, with additional funding provided by The Texas A&M University System and TTI.
The 7,500-square-foot facility is the only university-based lab that can conduct tests using a full tractor-trailer rig or a city bus at constant temperatures (ranging from -25°F to +131°F) and a controllable relative humidity of up to 70 percent. Solar loading lights and wind simulator fans help replicate a variety of weather conditions. With the recent addition of a portable dynamometer, tests can simulate various driving speeds and conditions.
“A dynamometer is like a treadmill for a car,” says Johnson. “It allows us to test vehicles for emissions — and also battery performance for electric vehicles — as they operate at different ambient conditions.”
The lab’s temperature-controlled environment has also allowed researchers to test full-size trailers, including refrigerator units. During one test, researchers put 355 temperature probes in a 53-foot trailer to measure how well a manufacturer’s product worked under different temperature extremes.
TTI Environment and Air Quality Division Head Joe Zietsman says the facility was envisioned because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was interested in evaluating the performance of auxiliary power units used with long-haul trucks. The facility has now proved itself as the go-to facility for testing a broad range of vehicles and equipment under environmentally controlled conditions.
In August 2014, TTI Associate Research Scientist Laura Higgins used the EERF for her National Cooperative Highway Research Program project on emergency exit tunnels.
“One of our biggest challenges in designing the research study was creating a simulated tunnel emergency without an actual tunnel structure to work with,” says Higgins. “The EERF was perfect because of its size and the fact that it has acoustics that are slightly echoing and tunnel-like. Being able to control light conditions and temperature was also very beneficial.”