Automotive

Shell trucks into the future with hyper-efficient solar tractor trailer

Shell trucks into the future w...
The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer will begin a US coast-to-coast journey in May
The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer will begin a US coast-to-coast journey in May
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The first generation aerodynamic cabover prototype developed by AirFlow Truck Company
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The first generation aerodynamic cabover prototype developed by AirFlow Truck Company
The first generation aerodynamic cabover prototype developed by AirFlow Truck Company
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The first generation aerodynamic cabover prototype developed by AirFlow Truck Company
The BulletTruck that started "real-world" freight hauling runs in 2012
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The BulletTruck that started "real-world" freight hauling runs in 2012
The BulletTruck achieved an average of 13.4 mpg (17.5 L/100km) hauling 65,000 lb (29,494 kg) gross vehicle weight from coast to coast
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The BulletTruck achieved an average of 13.4 mpg (17.5 L/100km) hauling 65,000 lb (29,494 kg) gross vehicle weight from coast to coast
The BulletTruck was AirFlow Truck Company's second-generation prototype
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The BulletTruck was AirFlow Truck Company's second-generation prototype
The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer
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The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer
The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer features a 5,000-watt solar array on the roof of its trailer
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The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer features a 5,000-watt solar array on the roof of its trailer
The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer features carbon fiber hood, bumper, and front and rear side skirts
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The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer features carbon fiber hood, bumper, and front and rear side skirts
The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer will begin a US coast-to-coast journey in May
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The Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer will begin a US coast-to-coast journey in May
Side and top views of the Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer
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Side and top views of the Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer

With trucking being such an important part of the transportation pie, and fuel economy regulations in the offing in many parts of the world, the pressure is on to develop more fuel-efficient highway haulers. To this end, Shell Lubricants has teamed up with Connecticut-based AirFlow Truck Company on "the Starship," a concept big rig fitted with various fuel-saving technologies that is being sent from sea to shining sea on a road trip to test its performance.

AirFlow Truck Company has a long history of Class 8 tractor trailer concepts designed to improve fuel economy, starting with the Cabover prototype in the early 80s. This was followed by the BulletTruck that started "real-world" freight hauling runs in 2012 and achieved an average of 13.4 mpg (17.5 L/100km) hauling 65,000 lb (29,494 kg) gross vehicle weight from coast to coast. Now, with Shell providing technical expertise relating to engine and drivetrain components (as well as lubricant recommendations), the company has taken things a step further with its third-generation prototype, dubbed the Starship.

There's no doubting the tractor and trailer look a lot more aerodynamic than any truck you're likely to pass on the highway, with the curved lines of the bespoke cab made from carbon fiber designed to slice through the air and reduce weight. The carbon fiber construction extends to the hood, bumper, and front and rear side skirts. At the front, there are active grille shutters that close and direct air around the vehicle when air flow isn't required through the radiator to keep the engine cool – this also decreases warm up time of the engine in cold weather. Meanwhile, at the rear, a boat tail reduces drag.

Side and top views of the Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer
Side and top views of the Starship Class 8 concept tractor trailer

The rig is powered by a 2017 Cummins X15 six-cylinder engine generating 400 hp (298 kW) and 1,850 lb-ft (2,508 Nm) of torque, with a hybrid electric axle system providing an extra boost when climbing grades. The axle also features a downspeed configuration to maintain good pulling power while providing better efficiency. To keep the vehicle's tires at the optimum pressure, the trailer's rubber is fitted with a custom automatic tire inflation system (ATIS).

Making use of the free real estate on top of the truck, the trailer has been kitted out with a 5,000-watt solar array that charges up a 48-volt battery bank to power electronic components, including LED lights, wipers, blower motors, gauges, air conditioning and microwaves.

The Starship made its public debut at the Shell Make the Future event at Sonoma Raceway last week, ahead of a US coast-to-coast drive that will start next month. This will see the truck start in California and make its way to Florida carrying the maximum viable amount of freight within the allowed gross vehicle weight of 80,000 lb (36,287kg).

On the journey, the Starship Project team will measure the truck's fuel economy and freight tonne efficiency. This is the amount of energy required to move an amount of freight between two points, with Shell and Airflow believing it to be the most important measure of freight transportation efficiency, as maximizing a load while reducing fuel consumption will result in lower running costs and a reduction in weight specific carbon emissions.

Sources: Shell, AirFlow Truck Company

6 comments
Marcin_Blitz
what is the point of this exercisse?...most of energy is wasted to accelerate those 40 metric tones to cruising speed, as long as this energy cannot be fully recovered by regenerative braking, no big energy saving can be made...optimized aerodynamics is just by bone feeling max 10% never more, those trucks are traveling with such low speed aerdonymaic are nice to have but no braekethrough, rolling resistance is so much higher at least work on this aspect...there is no alternative to improve trucking as to go fully electric...Shell wake up!!!! stop dreaming you proove nothing here, is plainly stupid waste of time and money
JMS
Autonomous Trucks should be very different than this modification of the trucks of today. They do not need a cab, aircon, steering wheel, seats, sleeper, sound systems, other driver accessories. This means the tractor wheelbase will be shortened for better turning capability, and much less parasitic weight for a longer frame and all of the driver needs. The net weight that can be hauled will increase by multiple thousand pounds. These issues seem more important than maximizing aerodynamics. Practical trucks cannot operate like Nascar anyway, they need clearance to avoid damage from road objects, curbs, or simple road curvature from very long wheel base.
notarichman
use electricity to start moving. store it when stopping. coat the sides with solar panels in the nanosolar film style. if trucking only lanes existed; then use autopiloting to conserve weight, etc. as another has mentioned.
Derek Howe
looks cool, similar to Nikola Motors semi...except theirs isn't just a concept...it's something they actually are going to start selling next year. But, I personally think everything should be electric: Cars, trucks, semi's, boats, planes, & trains.
ljaques
The only benefit I see is that the generator wouldn't be running while the cab/truck was parked with the driver living inside. The concept is pretty gimmicky otherwise. What they don't mention is regen braking, which would make things even better, topping off the battery after having used it to climb the hill.
Johannes
Shell's trying hard to demonstrate some kind of clean/green credentials. Beware fossil fuel companies bearing gifts... https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2018/apr/25/hey-millennials-dont-fall-for-shells-pop-star-pr