Students going the distance

by Jim KerrAuto Tech . May 05 2017
Rick Osentoski / The Associated Press filesThe Elroy (second from left), a gasoline urban concept vehicle racing for team Mater Dei Supermileage, leads a pack of cars on the track during the final day of the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2017 at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Rick Osentoski / The Associated Press files

The Elroy (second from left), a gasoline urban concept vehicle racing for team Mater Dei Supermileage, leads a pack of cars on the track during the final day of the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2017 at the Cobo Center in Detroit.

Better fuel economy is high on the wish list for many automobile drivers. It doesn’t matter whether you are driving a large truck or a small economy car, everyone would like to squeeze a little more distance out of each litre of fuel.

So would thousands of young students as they rise to meet the challenge of the Shell Eco-marathon.

The 11th annual Shell Eco-marathon is a competition where student teams from across the world compete to see who can go the most distance on a measured amount of fuel.

There are several Shell Eco-marathon competitions held in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

This year, the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas was held in Detroit this year from April 28-30. About 116 teams from Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico and the U.S. design and built eco vehicles in either of two classes over the year and then travelled to Detroit to compete.

For both classes — the prototype vehicles and the urban concept type vehicles — the rules and regulations are very strict, with safety No. 1 on the priority list.

Helmets and fire-retardant safety suits are required for all drivers during testing and competition, as well as a fire extinguisher on the car and in the team pit work area.

A minimum of a five-point safety harness must be worn by the driver and cars are equipped with a roll bar. Other team members also need gloves, safety glasses and hearing protection while working on the vehicle.

Prototype vehicles can have three or four wheels and the maximum vehicle weight without driver is 140 kilograms.

Urban concept vehicles are closer in appearance to production economy vehicles and must have four wheels, with a maximum vehicle weight of 225 kilograms.

Vehicles run on either a specified Shell fuel (gas, diesel, ethanol or CNG), or can be electric vehicles running on hydrogen or battery power.

For internal combustion engines, the type and design is not restricted, but they must run on a specified fuel that is supplied by Shell.

“We are looking at a new generation of young scientists and engineers who crave collaboration and are motivated by their interests and inspirations,” said Norman Koch, global technical director for Shell Eco-marathon. “Shell Eco-marathon is the perfect platform that offers this generation meaning and purpose to innovate and to create a real impact in the world today.”

I met with one team in Saskatoon from Saskatchewan Polytechnic and their “Cool Runnings” prototype car is powered by a 35 cc gasoline engine putting out a whopping 1.25 horsepower. The 45-kg car has an estimated top speed of 120 km/hour. The rules call for a minimum average speed of 24 km/h during the competition and they hope to achieve 1,000 miles per gallon of fuel or better.

This is their first time entering the competition and they were very excited to attend, so there will be lots to learn and tough teams to compete against.

The competition is not about speed. In both prototype and urban concept vehicles, winners are the teams that manage to go further on the least amount of energy.

The Université Laval team, last year’s gasoline-powered prototype category winner, attained an amazing 2,585 miles per gallon at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2016.

The EcoCar team from the University of Alberta was one of six teams selected last year to compete for the Driver’s World Championship, but there are many other awards as well, including the Off-track awards for best Team Communications in broadcast and social platforms, team safety award, vehicle design, technical innovation and, in the spirit of the competition, the perseverance and team spirit award.

While the Shell Eco-marathon may bring the student’s efforts to the forefront, it is the many hours, days, weeks and months before the competition that make it all possible. For more than 30 years, Shell Eco-marathon competitions have challenged future automotive engineers and scientists to push the limits of energy efficiency. These students have risen to that challenge and are often thinking outside the box to create innovative ways of providing transportation for our future.