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Particulate Matters: The Future of Diesel Trucking

The Future of Diesel Trucking

KJ Jones
Jul 5, 2018
Photographers: KJ Jones
In my last column, I mentioned I participated in The Diesel Technology Forum’s panel discussion (with two GM diesel engineers) about the future of diesel cars and trucks. In that awesome chat with Audley Brown and Mike Segrist, the focus was primarily on small and light-duty diesel engines, and the cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks they power.
While methods of modifying those powerplants, which displace no more than 6.7 liters of air and fuel, are typically Diesel Power’s core topics, we are also conscious of and report about (in our Torque department) bigger diesel engines, too.
When it comes to big diesels made by Caterpillar, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Cummins, and Paccar, the vessels they power are of equal importance. Yes, I’m talking “big rigs,” the 10-, 16-, 18-, 20-, and sometimes even more-wheeled tractor/trailer combinations that traverse the U.S. each day, delivering goods, hopefully on time and intact.
As we love and take pride in our pickups, Kenworths, Freightliners, Macks, Peterbilts, and Internationals are not only each and every driver’s “baby,” the rigs are their livelihood. They’re the tools with which road warriors earn money that supports their families, and I believe those vehicles should be celebrated.
Since 1982, Shell Rotella’s SuperRigs truck show has done just that: pay much deserved homage to hard-working truckers and their machines. I’m privileged to be part of the experience each year and have a firsthand opportunity to see (and even ride in) some of the most decked-out and powerful Class 8 trucks on the road.
A really special treat came my way at SuperRigs 2018 (held at White’s Travel Center in Raphine, Virginia), when I was included in a select group of people who were given a chance to take a ride in the Starship Initiative Truck, a Rotella-supported, futuristic developmental big rig built by Bob Sliwa, owner of Airflow Truck Company.
Photo 2/3   |   Representing the early years of big rig trucking is a ’30s-era Mack AB model on display at Shell Rotella SuperRigs 2018. The Starship Initiative Truck is its night-and-day counterpart. Literally light-years different (with the exception of both using diesel fuel), the Cummins-powered, hyper-aerodynamic Class 8 tractor-trailer is today’s working example of the rigs that may be in our distant future.
Photo 3/3   |   Particulate Matters Starship
The instinctive first-blush response upon seeing Bob’s creation is: “What kind of truck is that?” The tractor, founded on an International chassis, is highlighted by a sleek, rounded, carbon-fiber cab that somewhat resembles a spaceship, or the bullet trains that speed across Japan. Starship (the rig’s short-form handle) is powered by a 400hp (1,850 lb-ft of torque) Cummins X15 I-6 diesel engine and features a custom-programmed, 18-speed Eaton automatic manual transmission that allows Bob to cruise (loaded with 39,900 pounds) at 65 mph, with the engine turning at just a tick more than 1,200 rpm.
This efficiency (oh, yeah, there’s also a 5,000-watt solar-panel setup that supports operating accessories like air conditioning for hours, without having to run/idle the engine), coupled with Starship’s ultralight composition and “hyper-aerodynamic” design from stem to stern, are qualities Bob and officials at Shell feel are essential for achieving super fuel efficiency with Class 8 big rigs.
And what is this super efficiency? In a layman’s nutshell, it’s Starship’s ability to traverse the U.S. from San Diego, California, to Jacksonville, Florida (2,300 miles), fully loaded, and average 8.94 mpg (the best attained during the drive was 10.2), compared to 6.46 mpg, the average for transport trucks in the U.S.
“Our goal with the Starship Initiative is to challenge how the trucking industry is defined,” says Robert Mainwaring, Technology Manager for Innovation, Shell Lubricants. “Through this road trip, we were able to test 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.”
Will Starship Initiative–style diesel trucks really command our highways in the future? I think the jury will be out on that for many more years. But being able to see, touch, and ride in rigs that represent the old, and new ages of trucking at SuperRigs 2018 is something I am proud I was able to experience. Both ends of the spectrum. For sure.
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