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Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2014

The number of cars on the road is set to triple by 2050. More efficient fuels combined with ever more innovative automotive designs are needed to increase the distance a vehicle can travel on a single unit of energy, saving fuel and limiting emissions.

In Friedberg, Germany, a group of students has taken up this challenge. Team THM (Technische Hochschule Mittelhessen) Motorsport Efficiency has been the most fuel-efficient German team at Shell Eco-marathon Europe for the past two years.

Student from team THM at Shell Eco-marathon Europe

Not only has THM improved its car’s fuel efficiency year on year, its teachers were awarded EUR 100,000 from the university and the faculty of mechanical engineering to create a new Motorsport Laboratory to help the students develop their engineering skills.

“The competition is not just about learning to use energy more efficiently,” says Dr Claus Breuer, team founder. “It’s a fantastic tool that helps us to inspire our students to become better and more innovative engineers.”

THM invested the money in the one thing it wanted more than anything else – a new, fully-equipped laboratory. The students can use the lab to develop and test new designs, at any time of the day or night.

“Previously we did not have our own workshop,” says third-year engineering student Norbert Stieh. “We could only work on the car in our spare time during normal teaching hours.”

Thanks to the new laboratory, Norbert has seen the efficiency and quality of the team’s work improve.

Fully-equipped test laboratory

The laboratory boasts two test benches; a rolling chassis to brake and test the engine while it is running; an electrical and electronics section; and a bank of laptops for analysing results.

After just six months in the new laboratory the team has produced a stream of innovations for the car.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements for this year’s competition,” says Norbert. “We’ve enhanced the chassis and the engine electrics and control unit. And we’ve designed a computerised system to optimise engine timing and boost our fuel efficiency.”

Most significantly, the team has designed and built a new combustion engine, which they hope to unveil in Rotterdam in May.

As a result of these numerous innovations, the team’s confidence is high. One of their goals is to improve on last year’s performance of 1,046 km per litre by at least an additional 200 km.

Team THM at Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2013

Team facts

Team name: THM Motorsport Efficiency

Average age: 25

Car name: Streamliner

Category: Prototype

Energy type: Petrol

Main features: New chassis with honeycomb structure and carbon fibre layers for strength and lightness. New engine

Years in competition: 5

Record: 1,046 km/l in 2013

Claus Breuer, 49, founded the team in 2009. “For me personally, Shell Eco-marathon is all about learning. It’s an excellent means to teach students how to solve engineering tasks, both as a team and as individuals.” Dr Breuer’s interest in speed and engines extends into his spare time: he is a keen motorcyclist and aircraft pilot.

Thomas Pyttel, 49, is joint leader of the team with Claus Breuer. His most challenging project to date was building the new carbon fibre monococque chassis (monococque is a combined chassis and body frame in a single piece). “It took a huge amount of work to prepare the mould. But the reward is seeing the excitement and motivation in the students as they progress and succeed.”

Norbert Stieh, 27, is a third-year student of engineering and in his third year in the team. Norbert is responsible for building a new powertrain. One of the most valuable skills he’s learned is project and time management. “It’s important to set and keep deadlines. If we don’t, the car would never be finished.”

Andreas Dieter, 27, is a sixth-year student of engineering. Like Norbert, he has been a member of the team for three years. As one of the more experienced team members, Andreas is responsible for coaching and helping younger members of the team. He is also the team’s reserve driver, and boldly predicts a 500 km/l improvement on last year’s performance.