Main content | back to top
All roads lead to Houston
Three young teams, thousands of kilometres apart, have been putting the finishing touches to futuristic car designs. Soon they will join over 120 others at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2014 to put their hard work to the test on a street circuit in central Houston, Texas, in the USA. Discover what goes into building these amazing cars.
Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2014
Taking to the streets
It’s summer vacation time in Brazil. But on campus at the Universidade Federal de Itajubá around 25 dedicated students are hard at work. They are constructing a car to compete in Houston, Texas, at the annual energy-efficiency competition: Shell Eco-marathon Americas.
Located about 100 kilometres from the coast, between Rio de Janiero and São Paulo, this university is one of Brazil’s best at training young electrical engineers. So it is no surprise that the team has opted to power its car on electric battery.
The three-wheeled vehicle, BlackVOLT, boasts an aluminum frame and thin black plastic shell. Stretching less than two metres, its compact design helps cut energy use. Lucas Ballestrasi, a 20 year-old student in control and automation engineering, leads the team and is responsible for electronics.
Lucas Ballestrasi testing one of BlackVOLT’s electronic components.
“Our goal this year is to reach 300 kilometres per kilowatt hour,” he says. This would be 88 km more than their record last year, the second time they competed. “Improvements to the car’s power control systems should help.”
Team members don’t build the car during school sessions. They spend that time designing the vehicle and testing various components that will go into it. The actual fabrication work and road testing is done during vacations and holidays.
“We don’t have a track at the university to test it,” says Lucas, “We have to drive on the city streets of Itajubá late at night when there is little traffic and police can block off a course for us.”
The car has already been shipped by air to Houston. Soon 10 team members will join it to ensure that BlackVOLT is charged and ready to go.
An engine with a difference
The competition welcomes innovation from some of the brightest young minds across two continents. More than 8,000 kilometres from the Brazilian coast and fellow competitors, the University of Toronto team has worked intensively to erase the memory of last year’s outing.
Jonathan Hamway is the team’s leader and driving force. The 21-year-old mechanical engineering senior says their first competition last year was a real learning experience.
”We had problems with our engine – amongst other things – and we didn’t finish record a distance.” They started work the day they arrived back. In an attempt to revolutionise their car they removed the modified Honda leaf-blower motor used previously and started to build an engine from scratch.
"I'm really proud of the team this year,” says Dave Sinton, Engineering professor and team advisor. “They are in an excellent position with their custom-designed engine.”
Three thousand hours went into design alone on the 45cc, one-horsepower engine. It’s a little smaller than the old one and uses a special combustion cycle to increase power but save fuel. They’ve also replaced the bicycle coaster hub in the drive wheel with a clutch that creates much less drag.
Jonathan says they also put the car on a diet: “We got rid of the aluminum frame and went to an all carbon-fibre shell, reducing the weight by 30%.”
Vitor Carrasco at work on the Universidade Federal de Itajubá’s competition entry, BlackVOLT
Carbon-fibre unibody shell from the University of Toronto
While the University of Toronto, like many teams, has focused on the inner workings of their car, others have given equal thought to the exterior. The four teams from St. Paul’s School from Covington, Louisiana, have been inspired by popular films.
Three of the four vehicles are in the street-ready UrbanConcept category and resemble real-life cars and trucks. The Back to the Future Part II team is bringing their petrol vehicle Delorean 2.0; The Raiders of the Lost Spark team is bringing a diesel truck-style vehicle named Indy after the Indiana Jones film character; the Streamliners team will field a battery electric car. The fourth team, Wolves on Wheels, will compete in a Prototype battery electric car, Viper IV.
The teams spend the same hours in the workshop together and help each other out by sharing specialist skills – such as welding – if needed.
“Simple and efficient is always better,” says team captain and driver Quinn Anglada.
With the exception of major manufactured parts such as large axles, the St.Paul’s students made all parts for the cars. They have also been invited to nearby Louisiana State University for engineering advice and to take advantage of the advanced facilities there.
The three teams have all faced their own challenges but all have the same goal in Houston: to learn, to compete and to go even further on less energy.
University of Toronto, Canada
Team name: University of Toronto SuperMileage
Average Age: 21
Name: University of Toronto SuperMileage
Features: Carbon-fibre unibody construction (no frame). Custom-designed and built 45cc, one horsepower, Atkinson cycle engine. Low-drag main drive clutch.
Jonathan Hayman, Team Leader. Senior Mechanical Engineering student at University of Toronto.
“The main objective for our team entering Shell Eco-marathon is technology advancement and environmental awareness in our community.
All of our team members are passionate advocates about our cause of designing a super fuel-efficient vehicle. In many of the courses we've taken during our time in university, environmental concern has come up a great deal.
As a team that is only in its second year and having designed and built an entire engine from scratch, we want to increase public awareness: succeeding in Shell Eco-marathon would be a great start.”
David Sinton Ph.D. P.Eng., Team Advisor, Professor of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, Director of Institue for Sustainable Energy, University of Toronto.
“I'm really proud of the team this year. Last year was their first year out and they did well, but this year they are in an excellent position; particularly with their fully machined, custom designed engine.
They have already won recognition for their car elsewhere. This is a great story of engineering students working side-by-side, day-and-night, with machining technology students."
University of Michigan
Team name: Team EcoVeículo
Average age: 21
Energy: Battery electric
Features: Three wheel configuration – two front, one rear drive. A short aluminum frame chassis with thin black plastic skin has been optimised for reduced weight.
Record: 212 km/kwh
Lucas Balestrassi – 20, team manager, third year student in Control and Automation Engineering “Dealing with electronics is critical and very delicate, especially when trying to diagnose what needs to be fixed in the event of a problem. Still, watching our hard work pay off when the car starts to run is priceless.”
Nativa Villalta – 24, leader of the Management & Planning area, 5th semester in Industrial Engineering.
If designing and building a competitive car is a creative challenge, finding the money to pay for it and then transport the car, support gear and ten team members more than 8,000 kilometres by air for a one week stay in Houston, requires at least that much creativity! Fundraising is my most challenging and most rewarding task. Regardless of the work, I consider it a blessing to work in a team with people I admire and who will likely be friends for a lifetime.”
Vitor Carrasco – 21, in Mechanical Engineering studies since 2012 and responsible for BlackVOLT’s engine and transmission
“Selecting the most appropriate engine, developing the transmission system and reducing mechanical losses are some of my responsibilities. Being part of the EcoVeículo family has been the greatest experience in my academic life.”