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In the ancient Nigerian city of Benin, Edo State, passengers peer out of mini-buses – known as “tuke-tukes” – stuck in traffic. These buses help reduce the number of private vehicles on the road and have inspired a student team working to create a car for the cities of the future.

“Transport in our city is very inefficient and most cars consume a lot of fuel,” says team leader Adekola Adeyemi, a fourth year Production Engineering student at the University of Benin. “Our vehicle will show what’s possible in fuel economy.”

Adekola and fellow students on Team UNIBEN have been putting in long hours at the campus workshop. They will enter their petrol-powered car, named Tuke-tuke, at Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2014 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The annual event will see thousands of students competing to demonstrate ultra-fuel efficiency – with the winners’ vehicles likely to be capable of travelling thousands of kilometres on a single litre of fuel.

UrbanCencept car by Nigerian team UNIBEN

Highs and lows

For the first time teams from Nigeria are taking up the challenge. Team UNIBEN is entering the UrbanConcept category, which requires cars to include everyday features like space for luggage and windscreen wiper.

Building the car has not been easy, especially because some of the car parts needed by the team weren’t available in Nigeria. Where possible, the team solved the problem by using local materials: the car’s brake pads are made from palm kernels and the interior is lined with adire, a dyed cloth made in south-west Nigeria.

The students also added some innovative extras – including a windscreen wiper with a sensor that comes on automatically if it rains and a clap-activated lighting system.

 

Life skills

Getting ready for the event clearly requires a great deal of dedication; but it also offers long-term benefits.

“Self-employment is an alternative for most graduates,” says assistant team leader Abdulmalik Taj-Liad Adetunji. “Learning how to make contacts and obtain funding are useful skills for setting up your own business.”

The competition also develops the students’ practical abilities. Last year Adekola visited the event in Rotterdam: “In the workshops on site I saw students operating lathe machines; back home we’d never have access to this type of tool.”

Adekola hopes to work in the automotive industry when he graduates and is acquiring hands-on skills that could one day help him realise his dream.

Prototype car by team UNILAG

Ready for the future

Team UNIBEN are not the only Nigerians who have been preparing for Rotterdam. Two hundred miles to the west, Team UNILAG will represent the University of Lagos. They are entering the Prototype category, which focuses purely on energy efficiency, using solar panels and an electric battery.

The students describe the congestion in the capital, seeing alternative transport fuels as a way of reducing emissions: “We believe that what we’re doing could have an impact on the future of cars,” says team member Olusegun Adebayo.

Just like the Benin participants, Team UNILAG appreciates the many benefits of taking part. Abayomi Adeboye wants to be an underwater welder once he completes his degree in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering: “Working on the car has meant I could practice aluminium welding, a chance I would otherwise never have had.”

Both universities recognise the value of the programme and award academic credits to the students who take part. At the University of Lagos team supervisor Professor Ike Mowete arranged for the students to stay in guesthouses near the workshop when the university was closed because of industrial action.

“Shell Eco-marathon has tremendously broadened the horizon of the students,” says the professor. “The correct design will not always translate into the correct device unless the designer has experience with moving from drawing board to hardware.”

Now the two teams are mentally preparing themselves. “We don’t expect to come top, but we do expect to achieve a good distance,” says Abdulmalik from Team UNIBEN. “If they can do it in Europe, we can do it in Africa!”

TEAM UNIBEN

Average age: 22

Car name: Tuketuke

Category: UrbanConcept

Energy type: Petrol

Interesting car features: Button-activated gear to change speed. Brake pads made from palm kernels. Indigenous fabric (adire) for the interior design. Rain-activated windscreen wiper. Plant fibre and fibreglass for the body. Clap-activated interior lighting system. Obstruction sensor. Opto-electronic speedometer, which uses ultra-red signals for greater accuracy.

Years in competition: Newcomers

Record: Not yet

Team leader (22) Adekola Adeyemi has to make sure everyone is on schedule and is responsible for fine-tuning the engine and transmission. The eldest of four children, he is studying Production Engineering. He says: “I believe in creativity and I have never doubted human wisdom.” Adekola believes in achieving more as a team and his watchword is unity.

Abdulmalik Taj-Liad Adetunji (22) is the assistant team leader – and responsible for the car’s suspension and brakes. An engineering student, Abdulmalik was used to acting on his own but now says: “After working closely with team mates for three years I am confident I can work with any team in the world!” He sees his strengths as leadership, resilience, sound judgment and good team spirit.

James Itoro Anietie (22), a Mechanical Engineering student, is in charge of team communications. He has an excellent academic record and has held a number of leadership roles for different groups. Outside of school he enjoys football and music. James says: “The real essence of engineering is in productivity: I have always craved seeing basic engineering theories we learn in class work in physical reality.”

Team UNILAG

Average age: 22

Car name: AUTONOV II

Category: Prototype

Energy type: Solar battery-electric

Interesting car features: The car is shaped like a teardrop to minimise drag. It is painted the colours of the Nigerian flag. The body includes natural material from raffia plants.

Years in competition: Newcomers

Record: Not yet

Team manager Abraham Imohiosen (22) is a fifth year student of Electrical and Electronics Engineering. He is passionate about science and loves new challenges. The team unanimously voted him their leader and in future he plans to complete a doctorate degree: “to give back to society through groundbreaking research and by mentoring young students”.

Fourth year Mechanical Engineering student Olusegun Adebayo (20) is known as a design whizzkid. He has designed the car’s steering and braking systems, as well as improving its aerodynamics. He has outstanding leadership traits and says: “You need to know how to manage people’s emotions and resolve any issues.”

Abayomi Adeboye (21) is part of the team’s materials group – which makes sense since he is studying Metallurgical and Materials engineering. He has loved engineering since he was a child and wanted to know how his toys worked “often with disastrous consequences!” Now he is set on becoming an underwater welder and using the competition to develop his skills.