Shell/Airflow Truck "Starship" - An Upgraded Hyper-Efficient Class 8 Big Rig Ready to Roll

Discussion in 'In the News' started by xcel, Dec 31, 2020.

  1. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    [​IMG] An upgraded 2018 Big Rig Efficiency program is set to prove itself this spring!

    Wayne Gerdes – CleanMPG – Dec. 21, 2020

    2020 Shell - Airflow Truck Starship Class 8 Tractor Trailer Rig


    The Starship Class 8 Tractor Trailer is an innovative design focused solely on reducing emissions and lowering costs in the transport sector. This next-generation truck features an even aerodynamic design and aims to demonstrate improvements in fuel efficiency for Class 8 tractor trailers.

    Since the first phase of the Starship truck and demonstration run were completed in the spring of 2018, Shell has helped improve the truck further. The Starship 2.0 will be launched in the first half of 2021 with another coast-to-coast demonstration run from San Diego, CA to Jacksonville, FL to compare to the 2018s results.

    Class 8 trucks and trailers with new emissions regulations on the horizon will need to improve efficiency.

    Shell Lubricants and AirFlow Truck Company joined forces to upgrade the already hyper-fuel-efficient Class 8 tractor trailer, Starship and are sending it on another coast-to-coast to see just how much more energy efficient road transport can be.

    The pursuit of significant fuel economy gains for class 8 trucks and trailers is a challenging process given the size and traditional construction of a tractor and trailer. With new fuel economy regulations on the horizon and the need for continuing advances in fuel economy, Shell Lubricants recognizes that a holistic approach to making fuel economy gains is important. This includes advances in engine and drive train technology, the use of low viscosity synthetic lubricants, aerodynamic designs, efficient driving methods and more. During Shell’s continuous on-highway testing of Shell heavy diesel engine oils and other lubricants, they always seek to understand how efficiencies can be gained across the whole truck.

    2018 The Starship Initiative

    For the 2020 Class 8 rig, a hybrid electric axle will be used as a power boost during ascents, A custom automatic tire inflation system was also added. The 5 kW solar array charges and stores power for normal electrical components

    Shell Products for Starship:
    • Full synthetic Shell Heavy Duty Engine Oil
    • Spirax S6 GXME 75W-80 transmission oil
    • Spirax S5 ADE 75W-85 differential oil
    • Spirax S6 GME 40 wheel hub oil

    AirFlow Truck has built two previous aerodynamic Class 8 tractor trailers, the first in 1983 and the most recent in 2012. The most recent rig, dubbed the Bullet Truck, ran coast-to-coast hauling freight at 65,000 pounds GVWR and averaged a record 13.4 mpg.

    Upgraded Starship w/ 5 kW Solar Panels in view


    While 5 kW can run all of the truck’s accessories, it provides just 6.7 hp of instantaneous power in full sunlight and that will not help move the up to 80k GVWR truck in any appreciable fashion. However, if enough energy is stored in a yet to be disclosed Li-Ion traction battery of let us say 30 kWh (6-hours of full sunlight charge time), that amount of energy ... Hmmm, from our 2020 Prius Prime PHEV steep mountain grade testing reveled how its 6-kWh traction battery lifts the 3,750 lbs vehicle and occupant just over 3,000 ft in elevation from full to depleted. A back of the envelope comparison and just a raw chemical to potential energy conversion not taking into account the efficiency advantages designed into a Prius' driveline, let us imagine a 30-kWh traction battery capable of lifting an 80k lbs tractor trailer rig just over 700 ft. That is a significant elevation delta if the 48V system is anywhere as efficient as Toyota’s stepped up 650V HSD is. It is not but for the sake of the discussion, with a 12-hour day of sunlight and two full discharges, those 60 kWhs are worth approximately 1,400’ of free ascent energy to help the Starship climb! Of course 48V systems are not going to be nearly as efficient as the high voltage systems we are accustomed to in our everyday HEVs, PHEV,s and BEVs but there will be an efficiency improvement.

    Shell - Starship Basic Specs

    Engine: 2017 Cummins X15 400 hp and 1,850 lb-ft of torque I6

    Transmission: Eaton 18-speed Automated Manual Transmission (AMT)
    Axle 2.50:1 ratio, 6x2 with powered electric tag axle

    • 48 volt primary battery bank
    • Dual bus 48 volt/12 volt electrical system
    • 48 volt alternator
    • 6,000 watt inverter/battery charger
    • Dual 48 volt primary and secondary A/C systems
    • 48 volt to 12 volt DC buck converter
    • 12 volt supercapacitor for engine starting
    • Full custom digital display dash system
    • All LED lighting
    The body is a custom aerodynamic shape of carbon fiber w/ an Active grille shutters, engine heat extractor side skirts, a full bellypan and what appears to be camera enable and non-DOT approved side view mirrors. I do not see any passive front wheel air curtain ducting that would knock off a few points from the Starships drag.

    Jay, wxman and BillLin like this.
  2. seftonm

    seftonm Veteran Staff Member

    Some more quick and dirty math, the 5 kW solar system might save around 10 gallons of fuel on the cross-country trip. Assumptions:

    • 36 hours of driving time, all during daylight hours
    • Average power output from solar system is about 3 kW
    • Engine thermal efficiency 40%
    • Alternator efficiency 70%
    • Solar system is used to power truck's electronics
    108 kWh of energy is generated with that assumption. That saves 108 / (0.7 * 0.4) = 385 kWh of fuel, which is equivalent to around 10 gallons of diesel. If the trip is 2400 miles and the truck were to average 15 mpg without the solar power, the 10 gallons saved would raise the fuel economy to 16 mpg.
    xcel, wxman and BillLin like this.
  3. RedylC94

    RedylC94 Well-Known Member

    Can it negotiate tight turns as well as a normal tractor-trailer combination of equal cargo space?
    xcel and BillLin like this.
  4. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Hi Mike:

    I would love to know the accessories and HVAC energy consumption of the truck as well!

    RedylC94, the tractor trailer gap panels are supposedly flexible and move with the trailer through a tight turn. IIRC, some of the DOE backed CLass 8 projects had retractable gap panels to eliminate that problem in a slower speed urban environment where the trailer would have to be backed in with tight turns.

    Speaking of which, the International -- SuperTruck program appears to be ready for its own on the road initiative this year.

    Kenworth's own project under the DOE SuperTruck II funded program is also moving forward.


    Kenworth and UPS Collaborate on DOE SuperTruck II Program

    Kenworth is developing important advancements in Class 8 truck aerodynamics, engine and powertrain efficiencies under the $8 million SuperTruck II program funded by the Vehicle Technologies Office of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Goals for the program include the demonstration of greater than 100 percent improvement in freight efficiency* over 2009 equivalent product, and a 55 percent engine increase in brake thermal efficiency performance.

    The project will utilize the flagship on-highway Kenworth T680 tractor and an industry leading PACCAR MX engine.

    PACCAR joins four other SuperTruck II teams working to develop such innovative technologies designed to more than double the freight efficiency of Class 8 trucks. Up to $12 million in additional funding could be awarded for the Kenworth T680 and PACCAR MX engine project over the next three years, subject to annual appropriations by Congress, which has been very supportive of the SuperTruck II initiative. Kenworth also is working closely with the PACCAR Technical Center and DAF Trucks NV, a subsidiary of PACCAR, Eaton, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Mississippi State University, and AVL.

    According to the DOE, trucks haul 80 percent of goods in the United States and use about 28 billion gallons of fuel per year. This accounts for approximately 22 percent of total transportation energy usage and presents a significant opportunity to increase efficiency and reduce cost for a key segment of the nation's transportation sector.

    The Department’s Vehicle Technologies Office in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in early-stage research to spur private-sector research, development and commercialization of more energy efficient and affordable transportation technologies that increase energy security and economic growth. To learn more about the Department's work with industry, academia, and other partners on advanced vehicle technologies, please visit the Vehicle Technologies Office website (


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