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Winning formula? New car, new category
Seeking a new challenge, a successful French team built a new car to compete for the first time in the Urban Concept category against other cars resembling those already on public roads. Students from a high school and university collaborated on the sleek blue car powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
For once, Jérômine Maillet is not wearing a crash helmet and racing suit as she prepares to slip behind the wheel of a high-performance car. Clad in a slender black dress, she must graciously squeeze into a low, aerodynamic single-seater in front of more than 100 people and smile for a pack of photographers.
Participating in a press conference to unveil a new car is one of many trials the 21-year-old engineering student and her teammates are tackling as they prepare to compete in Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2013, May 15-19.
After several years of dominating competition in the hydrogen prototype category, the joint team from Polytech Nantes and La Joliverie high school will for the first time try their luck in the Urban Concept category. As ever, the aim is to go the furthest on the least amount of energy.
“The big challenge is getting the car ready in time to run in the competition,” said Valentin Evon, the 21-year-old engineering student from Nantes who heads the joint team developing the car, dubbed Cityjoule. “Sometimes we come a little too close to the deadline.”
Students were bent over the car’s carbon fibre body until 1 a.m. on the day of the press conference. Having rushed to install its two hydrogen fuel cells and sophisticated electronics, they were completing final cosmetic touches to the bright blue car.
Coordination is key
One major challenge has been coordinating the efforts of more than 200 students in three different locations. Students at La Joliverie designed and built Cityjoule’s body, suspension and other running gear. A team at Polytech Nantes focused on making the hydrogen fuel cells, building on previous experience competing in the prototype category with a car named Polyjoule.
The third team, located an hour’s drive away at Polytech’s campus in the town of Saint Nazaire, designed and built all of the electronic circuitry. Regular meetings helped keep everyone aligned.
All of the car’s components were bench-tested separately by the teams that built them, but only came together in the car for the first time in late April. “We have about a week to be sure all the parts work properly together,” said Mickaël Fardeau, a teacher at la Joliverie and the team’s technical director.
After the press conference, Cityjoule isn’t quite ready to run under its own power. Some final electrical work remains. Nonetheless, several students lift the 80-kilogram (around 175 lbs) car and carry it down a wooded path to an asphalt running track on the school’s athletic grounds. There they give it a preliminary “road” test to see how the suspension, brakes and other components work. One good push is enough to propel the super-efficient car about one and a half times around the oval track.
The car will get its first real test against rivals at a regional competition in Colomiers, France, on May 9-11. Jérômine will be at the wheel – this time wearing all of her safety gear.
Jeromine Maillet talks about what it is like to pilot one of the world's most fuel-efficient cars.
|Energy type:||Hydrogen fuel cell|
|Unique car features:||Aerodynamic modelling and wind-tunnel testing resulted in a low drag coefficient of 0.1. Twin hydrogen fuel cells drive two electric motors. LED lights front and rear add some flair.|
|Years in the competition:||First year in the Urban Concept category; six in the Prototype category|
|Record to beat:||100 km/kWh|
La Joliverie’s petrol-powered prototype Microjoule holds the record for its category of the equivalent of 3,794 kilometres on a litre of fuel (8,924 miles per gallon). Polyjoule, which is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and was developed in partnership with university students at nearby Polytech Nantes, holds the record for its category – the equivalent of 5,136 kilometres per litre (12,081 miles per gallon).
Who's on the team?
This 21-year-old engineering student heads the joint team from Polytech Nantes and la Joliverie. Easygoing and quick to joke, he tries to make sure that working on the team is fun, even if there are long hours. The toughest challenge he’s faced is ensuring smooth communications among three groups of students, each focusing on a different aspect of the car. Outside of school his passions are skiing, BMX racing and downhill mountain biking.
A fourth-year engineering student, Jeromine is the team driver. She also handles communications, such as writing articles for the team web site. She grew up near the ocean and is interested in the potential for harvesting energy from the waves and tides. She has a summer job lined up in Sweden at a lab that tests equipment designed to harvest energy from the movement of water. An enthusiastic traveler, in recent years she has visited Spain, Turkey, India, Mexico and French Guiana.
An automotive engineer who teaches at La Joliverie secondary school, Philippe has brought teams of students to compete at Shell Eco-marathon Europe since the event began in 1985. He’s passionate about the hands-on learning his students gain from working as part of a team to prepare cars for the competition. His years of experience are reflected in his team’s results.