Every year, the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas, a competition challenging high school and university students to build insanely fuel efficient vehicles. The winners often achieve over 100 times the miles per gallon of a typical car. It’s a little burst of hope for the future of transportation–if these kids can build these cars, imagine what will happen when they’re actually part of the auto industry.
This year’s big winner was the University of Toronto, which got 3,421 miles per gallon for their gasoline-powered vehicle on a track in Detroit. This was the university’s third year in the competition, but its first win.
“The first year we had a basic car, an aluminum chassis, a badly designed aeroshell, and an off-the-shelf engine,” says Prashanth Murali Krishna, the co-team leader and an aerospace engineering graduate student. “Last year we improved a lot of things, changed a lot of designs, built and designed our own engine.”
The University of Toronto was actually the only team this year with a fully custom-designed engine; other teams generally take an off-the-shelf model, like a leaf-blower engine, and modify it.
Since the Toronto team did such a thorough job of overhauling their vehicle last year, this year was all about refinement. It was still a lot of work, though–the team was still making final adjustments to the car on the day of the competition.
While Krishna doesn’t have any immediate plans to go into the automotive industry after graduating later this year, he says that others on his team want to be a part of it–hopefully taking their fuel-efficiency expertise with them.
Other winners of this year’s competition include a hydrogen fuel cell car from Colorado’s Wheat Ridge High School that gets 151 miles per kilowatt-hour; a battery electric vehicle built by students at Indiana’s Mater Dei high school that gets 450 miles per kilowatt-hour; and an ethanol-powered car from University of Colorado Boulder that reaches 842 miles per gallon.