We need to add another high-tech 18-wheeler entry to the growing list of players at the table: Shell collaborated with AirFlow Truck Company the truck you see above, dubbed Starship. The tractor-trailer combo isn't the wildest rival in the bunch, but it features the best of current technology aided by a host of major and minor tweaks from stem to stern. Shell considers the the Class 8 Truck equivalent of the Project M T25 city car it worked on with legendary English designer Gordon Murray.
Starship's tractor shell is entirely carbon fiber, from the hood to the side skirts shielding the drive axles. A six-cylinder diesel with 400 horsepower and 1,850 pound-feet of torque gets the load moving; the press release didn't mention the brand, but it's likely a Cummins ISX 15 motor. The engine and automated-manual transmission have been calibrated to run as low as 800 rpm, a fuel-saving tweak called "downspeeding." The idea is that for every reduction of 100 rpm at a given road speed, a truck gets one-percent more fuel efficient. Active grille shutters in the nose do their part for a few more tenths in mpg, as do low-viscosity Shell lubricants and Shell synthetic base oils.
A 5,000-watt solar array on top of the trailer supplies power to a 48-volt battery system, robust enough to run the truck's usual electrical load from lights to A/C to microwave. Eventually, AirFlow and Shell plan to fit the non-driven rear axle on the tractor with an electric motor, capturing regen during braking and providing a boost during acceleration and climbing hills.
Before that, Starship will go on a public, coast-to-coast run to measure its efficiency. Fully loaded to 80,000 pounds, Starship will from run from California to Florida in May, hauling clean reef material for a new reef installation off the coast of The Sunshine State. A third party, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, will keep track of both fuel efficiency and freight ton efficiency — essentially miles per gallon times payload weight, a more effective way to gauge efficiency considering payload variables.
Starship joins the Tesla Semi, the Nikola One and Thor Trucks among the upstarts trying to overhaul an industry that Shell says "accounts for more than one quarter of the world's total energy use and one-fifth of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions." With road transportation said to be responsible for 72 percent of those emissions, the quicker the industry overhaul, the better. No, the Starship isn't zero-emissions like those other trucks, but if it can prove itself, it might offer solutions that can be quickly converted to the booming current truck fleet while we wait on the zero-emissions superstars.