In a bid to defend fossil fuels future in heavy road transport Shell has  continued to finance the development of a highly fuel efficient semi trailer  which has been seen in several different evolutions in  recent years in a bid to  prove new techniques and  fuel saving ideas.

The latest Shell Airflow Starship was seen at last month’s Mid America Truck Show in Louisville, Kentucky and will soon be driven across the USA in a bid to set some new fuel consumption records and to prove the technologies the designers have employed.

Compared with cars trucks use enormous amounts of fuel so the fuel you can save from making small improvements to a truck can yield massive savings.

US driver Bob Sliwa will set out from San Diego on 17 May in the Shell Airflow Starship record truck with the aim of shattering fuel use records.

The full-sized trailer fully loaded to its legal 36 tonne capacity is targeted with setting the fuel economy record for a loaded Class 8 truck in a six-day cross-country trip scheduled to finish in Jacksonville, Florida.

With so much being written recently on the efforts to build electric trucks, including those from Nikola, Tesla and Daimler as well as Thor and other lesser known brands, not to mention recent Volvo proclamations, you’d be forgiven for thinking that  the end of diesel powered trucks was just around the corner.

As the executive director  of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), Mike Roeth, points  out, electric trucks are better suited to short-haul operations rather than cross-country trips.

NACFE is backing and promoting  Sliwa’s record run. NACFE is a spinoff of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which aims to scale up promising technology to improve efficiency in all kinds of life endeavours.

Where modern trucks use trailer skirts and tails to minimise drag, the Starship is covered in fairings, with skirts covering both the trailer axles and the drive axles of the cab, grille shutters, and a boat tail on the back of the trailer. The cab has been completely reconstructed from carbon fibre with a new aerodynamic profile.

It uses hybrid axles to give the truck a boost up hills despite taller gearing for more efficient highway cruising.

The top of the trailer is covered in 5,000 kw of solar panels which charge batteries to provide house power for the sleeper cab.

Sliwa aims to return fuel economy of better than 4.2 km/l or 10.1 mpg(US). The US national average for semi trucks is about 2.2 km/l  or around 5.1 mpg(US).

Roeth, wouldn’t annunciate and exact target figure for the Starship, in part because the organisation will measure the truck’s freight-ton efficiency—measured in ton-mpg—rather than straight mpg..

On its way to the East Coast, the Starship will be loaded with nearly 22 tonnes of cleaned materials to build ocean reefs.