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What is Shell Eco-marathon?

Shell Eco-marathon challenges student teams from around the world to design, build and test ultra energy-efficient vehicles. The competition dates back to 1939 when Shell Oil Company employees in the USA made a friendly wager over who could travel farthest on the same amount of fuel.

Annual events now take place in the Americas, Asia and Europe. The winners go the longest distance using the least amount of energy.

The competition gives participants the chance to demonstrate extreme fuel efficiency. It also sparks passionate debate about what could one day be possible for cars on the road. And it inspires potential engineers of the future to turn their vision of sustainable mobility into reality, if only for a few days.

How does it work?

A team rolls out their Prototype car from the paddock where students stay during the three-day event

A team rolls out their Prototype car from the paddock where students stay during the three-day event

Each team enters one of two classes. The Prototype class focuses on maximum efficiency, while passenger comfort takes a back seat. The UrbanConcept class considers the needs of everyday drivers. Cars run on conventional petrol and diesel, biofuels, GTL, hydrogen, solar or electricity.

Over several days, teams make as many attempts as possible. Cars drive a fixed number of laps at a set speed. Organisers calculate their energy efficiency and name a winner in each category and for each energy source.

Off-track awards are given for safety, teamwork, design, and technical innovation. “We introduced extra safety precautions – such as taping down wires and using heat-resistant polycarbonate – because going the farthest is not our only concern,” says Sarah Rood, ShopGirls team, winners of the Americas 2011 safety award.

Who competes?

Around the world, hundreds of student teams are preparing for Shell Eco-marathon 2013. Many are keen to promote alternative fuels, such as Joe Hayden, Mater Dei School, Indiana, USA: “We chose to enter the electric class as this has the potential to reduce energy use.” The Eco-Runner 3 car from the Eco-Runner Team, Delft, the Netherlands, will run on hydrogen: " We’re trying to make the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the world,” says Lourens Blok.

Others want to improve their skills: “This experience can’t be gained in a lecture theatre,” says Lütfi Uçar, Boğaziçi University, Turkey, whose car design was inspired by a pufferfish. Jógvan Juul Olsen, from DTU Roadrunners, Denmark, agrees: “The EcoCar challenges my creativity and helps develop my practical skills, letting me get away from my books.”