After a six-day, 3680km journey across the United States, Shell’s Starship has apparently proved its tagline of being ‘super fuel-efficient’ by posting some truly impressive fuel  efficiency figures on its run.

The truck, jointly developed with Shell Lubricants and the AirFlow Truck Company attained a remarkable 178.4 ton-miles per gallon for freight efficiency – representing a 248 per cent increase over the North American average that sits at 72 ton-miles per gallon today – during its trip from San Diego in California to Jacksonville in Florida in the last week of May.

In total, the Starship burned 972 litres of fuel (257 US gallons) across the 3680 km or 3.78 km per litre.

The freight ton efficiency number is the one to focus on according to Shell executives, as it is a “more relevant statistic for judging the energy intensity associated with moving cargo from point A to point B since it combines the weight of cargo being moved with the amount of fuel consumed.”

Robert Mainwairing, technology manager for innovation, at Shell Lubricants, said that by focusing on fuel economy only it makes drivers “go slow, and go light”.

“That only encourages truckers to run empty the better alternative is freight ton efficient, to assess the amount of fuel or energy required…so it drives a go slow, go heavy approach,” said Mainwairing.

That’s exactly how the truck got from point A to point B – slow and heavy.

The truck, loaded with clean reef material, weighed in at 34 tonnes (73,000 lbs) with an average speed of just over 80 km/h was equipped with a number of aerodynamic improvements and technologies to help achieve these figures.

“Our goal with the Starship Initiative is to challenge how the trucking industry is defined and to further the conversation by working with AirFlow Truck Company and others,” said Mainwairing.

“Through this road trip, we were able to test the Starship truck along with a number of technologies available today to provide insight into what trucking fleets and owner/operators could consider adopting to help reduce fuel use and emissions as they haul heavy loads.”

The cab itself is a bespoke aerodynamic design made of carbon fiber, to minimize wind resistance. The futuristic and streamlined design of the truck was amped up with cameras replacing the side mirrors.

It also sports active grill shutters, that open and close to maximize efficiency. Boat tails also played a major role in the fuel economy the truck achieved.

In addition to having low rolling resistance, single-wide based tires on the truck, it also has an automatic tire inflation system installed.

The roof of the truck is covered with 5,000 watt solar panels that charge the main 48 volt battery bank on the tractor. The battery powers the cab’s air conditioning and inverter for the 120 volt hotel loads.

According to Shell, if all the trucks in the U.S. reached the overall fuel economy and freight ton efficiency as the Starship, they would emit 207 million less tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere per year, which would correspond to a 60 per cent reduction in CO2 emission from U.S. truck fleets.

Though all of these technologies helped achieve remarkable efficiency figures none could be possible if it wasn’t for operational efficiencies controlled by the driver says Shell.

the owner of AirFlow Truck Company, Robert Sliwa, drove the truck across the country.

“A poor driver can negate all the technology in the truck and get poor fuel mileage,” he said.

Overall, Sliwa reached an average of 3.8 km/l with the Starship on his run with the best fuel economy attained on his trip being 4.3km/l.

Sliwa said the truck was extremely quiet and that often he could not hear the engine, only the tires.

“Driving the truck is an exercise in concentration,” he added. “The mental aspect of it is not to be underestimated. I was constantly aware of the grades the truck was coming up to and going down. I was doing my own predictive cruise. Really for a truck driver to maintain the best fuel economy he or she can, you have to get feedback from the gauge and anticipate what is coming up.”

The results of the truck were measured by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) as a third-party.

According to Mike Roeth, the executive director of NACFE, the council used two telematics devices and a data logger to verify the results.

“Essentially NACFE used a PeopleNet device and a LinkeDrive device to measure distance travelled, fuel consumed and weight,” Roeth said.

“The Shell team didn’t take the easy road to trying to achieve the best results they could with their first drive with the truck,” he said.

“They knew they wanted to make the truck run, but they went a step further. They carried a much heavier load than many average US operators normally carry, traveled a longer route in an uncontrolled environment with a variety of technologies not tested in these real-world conditions, he added.

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

Shell Lubricants Americas president, Carlos Maurer,  said that while the results were all it could have hoped for, he believes this is just the tip of the iceberg for what could achievable tomorrow.

“For me, what is fantastic, is that this truck can be commercialised and on the road today,” he said.

“All the products and technologies on the truck are ready to be rolled out. I believe the results today are just the baseline and I believe we will get better as time goes on and continue to make improvements,” he concluded