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Shell Canada's Fuelathon Program
Stephen DeLude with the Supermileage Vehicle
The historic vehicle won a 1986 Guinness World Record for fuel economy – 5,691 miles per gallon. The victory demonstrated that Shell Canada’s 1977-1993 Fuelathon program was making important contributions to the accumulation of knowledge about fuel economy, rolling resistance, aerodynamic drag and engine design. It was also a tribute to management, teamwork and driving skill.
On that last category, Shell’s Jacquie Moniz, now Senior Associate Researcher with Shell Global Solutions Canada, happily recalls some details from the five years when she was one of the competing drivers.
"Driving it didn't require you to be highly skilled," she says modestly, recalling the four years she worked on the program at Shell’s Oakville Research Centre.
"You mostly had to be patient and not mind being entombed in a cramped space with little air circulation, in the Ontario June heat."
Rain would cool things off, but then worms that surfaced on the track would be thrown up into the driver’s compartment.
When pressed, she concedes she and the other drivers were able to refine ways of coaxing maximum mileage out of gasoline over a controlled distance within a time limit.
"You wanted to take advantage of coasting momentum on a down grade, but then you’d have to know when to give it a little fuel to pick up the speed. It was a judgment call in every situation. "But looking back on it, I was proud of how well Shell hosted the event and encouraged innovative ideas from the students and universities."
Universities from all over North America and Japan came to compete in the Shell Fuelathon between 1977 and 1993. The competitions provided engineering and technology students with a challenging design project that involved the development of a single-person, fuel-efficient vehicle powered by a small four-cycle engine. The Supermileage vehicle that got the best mileage won.
Shell’s Stephen DeLude, now Upgrader Development Manager Upstream Americas, was another Oakville employee who worked in the Fuelathon program. (The Oakville Research Centre closed in stages from 1993-94.) DeLude was a track announcer who read the competition results.
"Each car had a glass fuel container attached to measure fuel consumption,” he says. “While this type of container is typically called a “bomb”, everything about the event was actually very safe. There was a kill switch on each car to stop the fuel flow in any emergency."
The Fuelathon technical team would use weighed syringes to refill the fuel container to exactly the same level as the starting fuel level. The difference between the syringe weight before and after refilling was used to precisely measure each vehicle’s gasoline consumption.
"When the University of Saskatchewan team got that amazing result in 1986, the race organizers and technical team couldn’t believe it at first," says DeLude. "They rechecked all the measurements and recalculated five times to be absolutely sure.'