“There are a lot of really smart and innovative fuel-efficient ideas to be seen on and off the track.” –Anthony Bernier, a member of Quebec’s Université Laval team competing at the 5th annual Shell Eco-marathon Americas event
Anyone in the trucking business understands the vital importance of fuel economy. And what better way to search for improvements in vehicular fuel economy than turning teams of high school and university students loose on the problem?
That’s the thinking behind Shell’s Eco-marathon Americas, a competition wherein students design, build and test fuel-efficient vehicles with the aim of traveling the farthest distance using the least amount of energy – without breaking down of course.
High school and university students from Canada and the U.S. battled it out during the 5th annual two-day Eco-marathon Americas this year in Houston, TX, and – surprising – for the third year in a row and beating last year's mileage by 77 mpg, the team from Université Laval in Quebec, Canada took home the internal combustion First Prize with an astonishing best run of 2,564.8 miles per gallon (mpg) in the Prototype class. In the UrbanConcept class, the team from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA, took First Prize by achieving a best run of 646.7 mpg.
In all, 62 teams participated in Shell’s 5th Eco-marathon Americas, entering 56 vehicles in the “Prototype” class and 12 vehicles in the “UrbanConcept” class – with some teams bringing multiple vehicles to the event to enter in different categories.
Shell noted that the “Prototype” entries featured 39 powered by internal combustion engines, with 32 fueled by gasoline, three by ethanol, three by diesel fuel and one by biodiesel. Another nine featured “plug-in” electricity, three with fuel cell/hydrogen technology and five “fueled” by solar power alone.
The “UrbanConcept” entries consisted of nine vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, with seven using gasoline and two fueled by diesel. The remaining three were powered by “plug-in” electricity, hydrogen fuel cells, and solar, Shell noted.
[The winning vehicle in this category from Louisiana Tech is at right.]
Even though most – if not all – of these vehicles couldn’t survive the harsh pounding vehicles take in daily use across the world, they represent attempts by some very sharp young minds to search for new solutions to some very old and complicated problems.
Shell itself said that this annual Eco-marathon competition – complemented by similar yearly events in Europe and Asia – is aimed at trying to meet the needs of today's drivers as society faces an increasing demand on energy for transport.
With an eye on the future of transportation, the student teams in this annual challenge competitively focus on “smarter use” of vehicles and propulsion systems – and that’s a very worthy goal, from where this reporter sits, at least.