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Shell announces results from historic Starship cross-country trip

Oil and lubricants giant, Shell has announced the results from the maiden voyage of its next generation Shell Airflow Starship. The coast-to-coast journey, commenced in San Diego, California and ended, nearly 4,000 kilometres later, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Carrying a payload of 18 tonnes in cleaned reef materials for an offshore reef, the hyper-fuel efficient class 8 tractor trailer, achieved, according to Shell, 68.9 tonne-kilometres per litre in freight tonne efficiency (FTE), bettering, by two and half times the Northern American average, which is 29.8 FTE.

The encouraging statistical results for Shell and its partner Airflow Truck Company were confirmed via on board telematics by independent third party the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). In gauged fuel burn, the Starship achieved an average of 3.8 kilometres per litre in fuel economy. The US average is 2.7 kilometres per litre.

The prototype truck, which encountered heavy rains, unscheduled stops and battled conditions from a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, as noted by Shell in a statement, attained at its best a fuel efficiency of 4.2 kilometres per litre.

The goal of Starship Initiative, said Robert Mainwaring, Technology Manager for Innovation, Shell Lubricants, was to challenge the trucking industry and further the conversation by working with AirFlow Truck Company and other manufacturers.

“Through this road trip, we tested the Starship truck, using technologies available today, to provide insight into how trucking fleets and owner-operators could reduce fuel use and emissions as they haul heavy loads,” said Mainwaring.

“This includes optimised aerodynamics, drivetrain and operational efficiencies, and low viscosity lubricants.”

The total weight of truck and cargo was measured at about 33.1 tonnes. Mike Roeth, Executive Director, NACFE, said Shell refused to take an easier option of a lighter payload in the interest of achieving best-case results.

“They carried a much heavier load than many average truckers on the road carry, travelled a longer route in an uncontrolled environment with a variety of technologies not tested in these real-world conditions,” said Roeth.

“For us, it was a rewarding opportunity to see the truck move from an idea on paper, and to have travelled with the team on the road to help verify the run results.”

Designed specifically to optimise energy, the Starship features a bespoke shape to assist with aerodynamics such as reducing air drag, one of the main factors in fuel usage. The diesel engine uses a purpose-built grille with controlled shutters for cooling. In addition there is a hybrid-electric axle system, custom automatic tyre inflation system and a 5000-watt solar array for storing power to normal electronic components.

The journey also afforded Shell with the opportunity to test new products prior to their introduction to market. ShellROTELLA T6 Ultra 5W-30 Full Synthetic engine oil was evaluated in conjunction with a Cummins X-15 Efficiency engine.

Mainwaring said the test results were the first step in an ongoing process that would yield further improvements.

“We’ll move forward to apply learnings from this test run and implement additional technologies on the truck for future testing,” he said.

“While it would be easy to say the Starship Initiative has been very successful, we know there is more we can do to continue to drive the industry dialogue in the future.”

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