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With Gas Prices Nearing $4 a Gallon, How Does 2,188 MPG Sound?

Mater Dei High School Achieves Highest Mileage At Shell Eco-Marathon Americas 2012

More than 1,000 high school and university students with 113 vehicles compete in the sixth annual challenge to see who can go the farthest distance using the least amount of energy on the streets of downtown Houston.

UNIOESTE - Universidade Estadual do Oeste do Parana at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012

UNIOESTE - Universidade Estadual do Oeste do Parana at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012

As energy demand continues to increase along with gasoline prices, students from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind., demonstrated just how fuel-efficient vehicles can become with the help of innovative design and a lot of hard work. Their entry in the sixth annual Shell Eco-marathon Americas achieved an impressive best run of 2,188 miles per gallon in the Prototype class. Mater Dei also achieved the highest mileage, 611 mpg, in the UrbanConcept class with “George,” a vehicle modeled after George Jetson’s cartoon flying car. 

More than 1,000 high school and university students designed and built 113 vehicles to compete in two types of vehicle classes: Prototype and UrbanConcept. The goal? To build a vehicle that could go the farthest using the least amount of energy through the streets of downtown Houston. It was the third year the competition took place in the energy capital of the world, continuing to offer student teams an urban setting in which to stretch the boundaries of fuel efficiency. Shell Eco-marathon also occurs in Europe and Asia, involving thousands of students from more than 40 countries. 

Mater Dei High School achieved a best run of 2,188.6 miles per gallon in the Prototype class

Mater Dei High School achieved a best run of 2,188.6 miles per gallon in the Prototype class, Gasoline category.

Mater Dei High School has competed at Shell Eco-marathon since the challenge began in the Americas six years ago. The phenomenal mileage achieved by the team’s latest Prototype vehicle did not come easy though – the electrical starter for their vehicle malfunctioned upon arrival in Houston, requiring the team to track down a manual starter to replace the problematic mechanism.

“The 2012 competition once again illuminates how much farther we can go to make real headway in the energy challenge facing our planet,” said Shell Eco-marathon Global Manager Mark Singer. “What the talented teams competing this year showed us were the wide array of smart options available. We’re proud that Shell Eco-marathon is part of the greater fuel efficiency solution.”

Prototype vehicles are typically smaller in size and more futuristic-looking, with the overall design concept to reduce drag and maximize efficiency. Vehicles in this class are one-seater, built with three or four wheels and have an opened- or closed-top driver compartment. In the UrbanConcept class, teams design and build 4-wheeled fuel-economy vehicles that look similar to the passenger cars we see on the road today. In addition to meeting specific height, width, length and weight criteria, the UrbanConcept vehicles must be capable of driving in light, wet weather conditions.

For both vehicle classes, teams can use either internal combustion or e-mobility energy sources, which include diesel, gasoline, ethanol, FAME, solar, hydrogen and battery electric technologies. 

Highlights of Weekend Competition

Students from Westside High School prepare their car for the race at Shell Eco-marathon Americas

Students from Westside High School prepare their car for the race at Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012 on Friday, March 30 in downtown Houston.

Bamboo Makes Two Cars Stand Out

Bamboo was a newly prominent resource used at this year’s competition. Two schools, Westside High School from Houston and Stevens Institute of Technology from Hoboken, N.J., constructed their respective cars using bamboo. Both schools did an extensive amount of research and found bamboo to be strong and hold up easily under stress.

This was the second year the team from Houston’s Westside High School competed in Shell Eco-marathon Americas, and  after last year, they wanted to stand out in some way. Seeing bikes made from bamboo inspired the team to remake last year’s model with bamboo, and they also replaced the gasoline engine with an electric battery. Last year, their metal-framed car was the lightest vehicle, and the accessories on this year’s bamboo vehicle make it roughly the same weight.

Another Year, Another Cedarville U Vehicle

The team from Ohio’s Cedarville University brought a third vehicle to Houston’s streets, and it was the first time this team competed in the UrbanConcept class. Cedarville faculty advisor Dr. Lawrence Zavodney nicknamed the vehicle “Urbie” – short for UrbanConcept. 

Aron Flaming, a senior at Cedarville University, noted the vehicle’s hybrid system. “The vehicle’s electric motor is always running, so the driver only has to start and stop the internal combustion engine one to two times while out on the track.”

In addition to the motor, other design elements made Cedarville University’s UrbanConcept vehicle fuel-efficient. Flaming designed the chassis – the frame that holds everything together – to reduce the amount of drag, which requires additional energy to push the vehicle forward.

Washers and Duct Tape

University of Houston student Julio Cornejo, a senior mechanical engineering major, and his team brought one UrbanConcept vehicle to Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012. One of the challenges they faced this year was getting their vehicle under the 450-pound (204 kg) weight limit. The team’s running joke was that if they removed all of the washers used on their vehicle, it would drop 50 pounds.

“We use washers for everything. If there’s a problem we need to fix, we add a washer. If there’s an extra space we need to fill, we add a washer. Just as duct tape holds the world together, washers hold our vehicle together.”

Brazil Students Compete at Shell Eco-marathon Americas for the First Time

With teams from Canada to Brazil, this year’s event truly proved a competition for the Americas. It was the first Shell Eco-marathon Americas experience for each student in the four teams from Brazil.   
The UNIOESTE team from Brazil is no stranger to super-mileage challenges and has been competing since 2009.

Last December, the team decided to participate in the event with a new vehicle. With only a couple of months to seek grants and donations, the team shipped its car in February to ensure it arrived in Houston in time for the challenge. After competing in this year’s event, it’s their dream to come back next year, but with more cars and in a more cost-effective way.

Teams Face a Heavy Issue: Weight

Weight – always important in a competition, whether Shell Eco-marathon or a swimming match – played a part in several teams’ entries.

One of Penn State University’s vehicles rolled to the start line this year with the same body as last year, but weighing about 140 pounds (64 kg) less. Penn State Senior Erik Denlinger says his team cleaned out the “guts” of their vehicle, getting rid of the diesel engine and associated components. “We decided to power our vehicle with a battery this year to make it weigh less and achieve greater fuel efficiency. It used to weigh about 380 pounds (172 kg) and it’s now 240 pounds (108 kg),” says Denlinger.

Meanwhile, Ashwaubenon High School of Green Bay, Wis., a first-time competitor, headed straight for technical inspection with the squad’s Prototype vehicle, XK8. The team didn’t factor in the vehicle weight requirements of Shell Eco-marathon into the equation. During technical inspection, the team discovered that their vehicle was nearly 40 pounds overweight.

The team worked together to find pieces from the vehicle they could afford to lose – including the top of the car and some unnecessary brackets – in order to make the weight requirements. After shedding the extra pounds, the team went through technical inspections again – and this time the vehicle passed.