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article imageShell Airflow Starship semi truck seeks a fuel economy record

By Ken Hanly     May 22, 2018 in Technology
San Diego - Bob Sliwa left from San Diego last Thursday night in a carbon-fiber-bodied, diesel powered semi truck. He is attempting to set a record for fuel economy for big trucks by the time he reaches Jacksonville Florida next Wednesday.
The Shell Airflow Starship semi
Sliwa's trip is sponsored by Shell and the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). The project is aimed at more than just extending the miles per gallon of diesel fuel but is attempting to learn about maximizing freight efficiency.
The truck will carry a cargo of 50,000 pounds. The truck is 80 feet long when the custom appended boat-tail affixed to the trailer is counted. It can be loaded up to a maximum of 80,000 pounds.
Mike Roeth, executive director of NACFE, says that most semi trucks only get about 7 miles per gallon and that is when unloaded. The Airflow Starship should do much better than that.
The truck has not only a carbon-fiber body and aluminum extenders but has active grill shutters. Full side skirts cover both the rear axles of the cab and trailer. It has active aerodynamic flaps covering the gap between the cab and the trailer when the truck is on the highway. However, these can be retracted to provide more maneuverability in the city. The car has smaller mirrors than a standard semi. It also boasts dual rear view cameras and monitors.
A 48-volt battery pack helps the engine. It drives an electrically powered tag axle, the rear-most axle on the cab of the truck. The middle axle uses power from the diesel engine. There is a solar array on the roof of the truck's 53 foot trailer that charges the batteries which also powers the air-conditioning and other electrical loads. There is no conventional battery.
The engine is started by a 12-volt supercapacitor. An inverter powers regular accessories such as the wipers and LED lights.
Axle ratios are stretched so as to keep engine speed as low as 800 rpm on the highway. The electric axle helps apply torgue when going up hills. The 18 speed automated manual transmission has a custom-calibrated control module that is optimized to provide the best fuel efficiency.
The truck also has a custom automatic tire inflation system so that tire pressure is always optimized. The Starship boasts forward-collision warning and electronic stability control. There is also a custom designed digital instrument cluster that will allow Sliwa to keep track of all the systems. Sliwa helped develop the truck.
When the truck arrives at its destination in Jacksonville, NACFE will collect all the data logs and take them back to the lab to process. They are looking for a record in freight-ton fuel economy. In a 2012 Bullet truck Sliwa set a record 13.5 miles per gallon while hauling 65,000 pounds coast to coast.
The advantages of greater fuel economy
An article written some time ago notes that the larger the truck the greater the environmental impact is on improving its efficiency. Increasing the efficiency of a large more polluting vehicle by a factor of 20 percent is more significant than the actual mile-per-gallon figures.
Because of the high cost of fuel consumption in larger trucks, upgrading to a more efficient vehicle can pay for itself in reduced operating costs especially as gasoline prices increase.
The Trump administration and fuel-efficiency regulations
Having regulations governing minimum fuel economy for larger trucks would certainly help the environment but the Trump administration has already announced the fuel-efficiency regulations already in existence for cars and light trucks are too stringent and onerous and must be revised. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is even considering revoking the waiver that allows California to set its own more stringent regulations.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt maintains that the national greenhouse gas targets that were part of former President Obama's climate change policy were too aggressive. In a news release Pruitt said:. “Obama’s EPA cut the midterm evaluation process short with politically charged expediency, made assumptions about the standards that didn’t comport with reality and set the standards too high.”
There seems little hope that projects such as the Shell Airflow Starship will get any financial encouragement from the Trump administration or that it will set any requirements for fuel efficiency in heavy trucks.
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