Shell Lubricants has showcased how innovation, technology, and collaboration can result in reduced emissions, showcasing the possibilities that transport can expect in the future.

Innovation, technology, and collaboration are three key elements that drive the evolution of Shell’s Rimula heavy duty lubricants. These, coupled with the need to further reduce emissions, have seen the rise of Shell – together with the Airflow Truck Company – combining their expertise in developing the Starship initiative, an innovative, material step towards reducing emissions and increasing overall efficiency and fuel economy in the transport sector.

The mission was to develop a hyper-aerodynamic, super fuel-efficient heavy duty concept truck capable of instilling the best of today’s existing and custom technologies with the end goal being to find out just how energy-efficient goods transport by road can be today; further elevating the conversation about the energy transition, and driving down CO2 emissions.

“As an energy provider, Shell actively initiates projects such as Starship to ensure that the company is constantly at the leading edge of technology development and energy efficiency,” said Robert Mainwaring, Shell Lubricants Technology Manager for Innovation. “Working with Airflow Truck Company and other suppliers provided us with the opportunity to align with innovative companies to explore what is really possible in fuel efficiency.

“The pursuit of significant fuel economy gains for heavy duty vehicles is a challenging process given the immense size of the vehicle coupled with the traditional construction of both the tractor and the trailer. However with new emissions regulations on the horizon, and the increasing demands of customers calling for increased efficiencies, we realised that the need for innovative thinking is imperative.”

How efficiency is achieved

The teams focused on enhancing various aspects of the vehicle including advances in engine and drivetrain technology, the use of low viscosity synthetic lubricants, aerodynamic designs, efficient driving methods and more.

The aerodynamics of the trucks were enhanced with a bespoke hyper-aerodynamic design cab made entirely out of carbon fibre. The front end features active grille shutters (active based on temperature to maximise aerodynamics and maximise efficiency) that, when open, enable air to flow through the radiator and into the engine compartment allowing cooling. When cooling is not needed the shutters are automatically closed, leaving the air to reroute around the vehicle. The result is less aerodynamic drag and reduced fuel consumption. An added benefit of active shutters is the reduced cold-weather engine warm up time.

The rear of the trailer makes use of an aerodynamic boat tail addition, making the truck streamlined in addition to reducing drag coefficient. Elongated side panels maintain airflow with the long side skirts that reduce rear end drag.

In order to reduce drag even further, an automatic tyre inflation system ensures consistent tyre pressure for optimal fuel economy while a down speed axle configuration using advanced engine controls and automated manual transmission provides improved efficiency as well as good pulling power.

To ensure that the vehicle makes use of as much renewable energy as possible, a 5,000 watt solar array on the trailer roof charges the main 48-volt battery bank on the tractor. This battery bank powers the cab air-conditioning and inverter for the 120-volt hotel loads. When down-converted to 12 volts by a cab-mounted DC-to-DC converter, it will power the normal truck loads, such as lights, wipers, blower motors, gauges, and other electrical components.

The company comments that a hybrid electric axle system is yet to be installed, with an electric motor and axle replacing the rear tractor non-driven axle. This system will inevitably provide a power boost while climbing grades, where the most fuel is consumed per mile. Further, the hybrid axle uses regenerative braking to charge the battery pack by capturing energy while decelerating or while descending a grade.

Shell’s expertise came in providing detailed technical consultation on engine and drivetrain components during the planning and production phases of the Starship initiative, as well as recommendations on which lubricant would provide optimal results.

Making use of Shell’s next generation, low viscosity, fully synthetic heavy duty engine oil, the use of fully synthetic base oils, plus advanced additive technology provides Starship with improved protection against wear, deposits and oil breakdown. Further, the lower viscosity lubricant delivers superior fuel economy compared to that of conventional SAE 15W-40. The lubrication technology shares the same viscosity as Shell Rimula Ultra E+ and is being tested by OEMs around the world.

Moreover, Starship uses fully synthetic Shell Lubricants including Shell Spirax S6 GXME 75W-80 transmission oil, Shell Spirax S5 ADE 75W-85 differential oil and Shell Spirax S6 GME 40 wheel hub oil.

The results

Introduced earlier in 2018, the truck’s energy optimising properties were showcased during its maiden 3,700km cross-country test stretching from San Diego, California to Jacksonville, Florida where real-world scenarios including real-world conditions, including unplanned stops and torrential rain were experienced. The US coast-to-coast run resulted in the team attaining a consumption figure of 178.4 tonne-miles per gallon (68.9 tonne-kilometres per litre) in freight tonne efficiency (FTE) – a 2.5 times improvement on the North American average of 72 tonne-miles per gallon (27.8 tonne-kilometres per litre).

Additionally, Starship’s total average fuel economy stood at 8.94 US miles per gallon (3.8km per litre), beating the US average of 6.4 miles per gallon (2.7km per litre). The best fuel economy attained during the drive was 10.2 miles per gallon (4.2 km per litre). Further, it has been estimated that if all two million trucks in the United States reached the overall fuel economy and freight tonne efficiency performance of Starship, there would be 229 million fewer tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

These measurements were verified by an independent third party, the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, using an onboard telematics system. The results are timely, as the global trucking sector seeks to go further with less, reducing fuel consumption while maximising load to lower costs and to meet fuel economy regulations.

The final total truck and cargo weight measured around 33,112kg with a payload weight of 18,098kg. This was comprised of clean reef material destined for new offshore reef installation in Florida.

“We are proud that the Starship truck was able to complete the coast-to-coast run in real-world trucking operations and conditions, including torrential rains. Our goal with this initiative is to challenge how the trucking industry defines trucking efficiency and further discussions with AirFlow Truck Company and other manufacturers,” said Mainwaring.

“These and other learnings are far from the final results, it is simply the start of our ongoing learning. We’ll move forward to apply learnings from this test run and implement additional technologies on the truck for future testing. 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 industry dialogue in the future,” he concluded.