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In a giant warehouse near Rotterdam harbour, 23-year-old engineering student Kenny Stinges stares at low-slung, futuristic cars rolling round a newly-built circuit. His team, Euregiorunners from Hogeschool Zuyd in Heerlen, the Netherlands, will be among the competitors striving to drive the furthest on the least energy at Shell Eco-marathon Europe from 15-18 May. 

“We’ve spent months researching economic ways to produce the most energy-efficient car,” says Kenny. “It’s exciting to see how far others have come!”

The Euregiorunners joined other Dutch teams, 2013's Cityjoule from Nantes, France, media and special guests as President Director Shell Netherlands Dick Benschop announced the official competition countdown. With less than four months to go, participants are frantically applying technical expertise and creativity to finalise their cars. The Euregiorunners may have an edge, thanks to their use of 3D-printing.

A new dimension to energy efficiency

Kenny and his teammates are entering their battery electric-powered car in the UrbanConcept category, which considers everyday driving needs. The team is on a tight budget to produce a light, streamlined car.

“We heard 3D printing could be an economic way to make our unique car parts,” says Kenny.

They will use a borrowed 3D printer to produce the mould for the car body. Kenny expects this will save money compared to the expensive wood used in past years and produce excellent results. 

The students programme each design into the printer, which then builds up the part in layers using a biodegradable material called polylactic acid.  The material comes from renewable plant resources such as corn starch or sugarcane, so could potentially offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastics.

The dashboard, steering wheel and other parts will also be 3D-printed.

“We are very excited to be working with a new technology,” says Kenny. “But ultimately it’s us who have to make this a success!”

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