A group of Dal engineering students recently competed at the Shell Eco-marathon in Houston, Texas, where they got a chance to show off their extremely compact and fuel efficient car — achieving a whopping 2,191 miles per gallon — and winning fourth place in the process.
The Eco-marathon is annual competition in Houston that challenges university and high schools students across the Americas to build the most fuel-efficient car possible.
“The event does a great job raising awareness about the energy solutions that are required to make transportation sustainable” says Dartmouth native Joe Ellsmere and member of the Sexton Supermilers team.
The competition metrics are simple: which vehicle goes the furthest on the least amount of energy? While fellow Canadian competitors from Laval took top honours, Dal had its most successful race to date, beating out 38 other competitors and finishing fourth.
The team's car is not the most practical vehicle — for instance, it can't even fit a backpack or purse along with the single female driver inside. But the cars are a showcase of “visionary extreme energy efficient design,” explains Ellsmere.
Although you likely won’t see any of the competition car designs on the streets of Halifax or in a dealership any time soon, the competition is teaching the next generation of engineering superstars about smart design and environmental sustainability.
“By building the car, we learn to design systems with smart use of energy in mind. We can in turn transfer these skills to other mechanical designs,” says Ellsmere.
Fast like a bullet
This year marks the third consecutive year Dal has sent a team to the Eco-marathon. Rather than building on previous designs, this year’s dedicated team rebooted when they began designing in June 2013. Starting from scratch meant, “lots of long hours on evenings and weekends” for team members, but it seems the team is very happy with the outcome.
The design team smashed previous Dal records, achieving a personal best of over 2,000 MPG. Considering fuel-efficient cars on the market today top out at a little over 100 MPG, this is quite the feat.
With the goal of achieving the highest fuel economy in mind, the Dal team built their 73-pound car using a lawn trimmer engine, advanced materials such as carbon fibre, and spare bicycle parts.
What was the largest design challenge?
“Wasting absolutely no space whatsoever,” says Ellsmere. “We really had to optimize each component to fit inside the extremely small space inside the car in order to minimize the car’s weight.” While the car can drive up to 60 km/h, it is normally driven at only about 35 km/h.
“The team was really proud to represent our school internationally, and come home with such a great result,” says Ellsmere.
The team is looking forward to competing again in June, this time at Michigan’s SAE Supermileage race.
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