By Nina Rach

College and high school teams from the US, Canada, and Italy racked up amazing mileage using conventional and alternative fuels at Shell Eco-Marathon Americas, held in Houston, 26-28 March. Fifty different vehicles were built by 42 student teams, including 9 high schools and 29 universities. Shell sponsors this educational project to challenge students to design, build, and drive energy-efficient vehicles that compete in two categories: “Prototype” and “Urban Concept.” Success is measured by fuel-efficiency – the vehicles that travel the furthest using the least amount of fuel.

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Shell Eco Challenge

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“Prototype” vehicles focus on maximizing fuel efficiency through innovative design elements, and 40 were registered, including 29 with combustion engines, 5 hydrogen/fuel cell, 1 LPG, 2 diesel, 2 solar, and 1 ethanol-fueled vehicle.

“Urban Concept” vehicles attempt to meet the needs of today’s drivers with a “roadworthy” and fuel-efficient vehicle. Ten of these were registered, including 6 with combustion engines, 1 hydrogen/fuel cell, 2 diesel, and 1 solar-powered vehicle.

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Shell stressed safety throughout the event, with daily briefings for staff and competitors, designated safety professionals, and various requirements: vehicles were required to pass a safety inspection that included braking capability on inclined planes, drivers were required to wear flame-retardant racing suits, safety harnesses and helmets, pass a driving knowledge test, and demonstrate that they could exit the vehicle, unassisted, within 20 sec, before they were were allowed to access the circuit.

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Prototype winners

The Alerion Supermileage Team from Quebec’s Universitie Laval brought its NTF 4.0 combustion engine car to Texas for the weekend competition, and completed ten ultra-efficient laps in a second run on Sunday. After demonstrating an outstanding 2,487.5 miles/gal (1,057.5 km/l), the team catapulted to first place in the Prototype category and took home a US $5,000 grand prize. [The Laval team also won last year in the "Prototype" category, with 2,757.1 miles/gal (1,172.2 km/l).]

Among the fuel cell/hydrogen engines entrants, the Cicero North Syracuse High School team from Cicero, NY achieved 780.9 mpg (331.99 km/l) in its Clean Green Machine vehicle. The Purdue University Solar Racing Team took first place with its solar vehicle, Pulsar, which achieved 4,548 mpg (1933.5 km/l).

Urban Concept winners In the "Urban Concept" category, the Supermileage team from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Indiana took the grand prize for the second year in a row by achieving 437.2 mpg (185.87 km/l) with their combustion-engine vehicle, George. [This team also set a Prototype record in 2008 with a vehicle that achieved 2,843 mpg (1,208 km/l)]

Special awards: People's Choice: 1st-Purdue University, Pulsar; 2nd-Granite Falls High School, Iron Maiden; 3rd-Granite Falls HS, Phillipe's Bulldozer. [The Granite Falls ShopGirls team is also the first all-girl team to compete in any of the Shell Eco-Marathons] Eco-Design: University of California, Los Angeles, Frankenstein. Safety: Monrovia High School, Benton High School and Granite Falls High School. Technical Innovation: Purdue University, carbon-fiber construction technique. Design: Louisiana Tech University. Communications: Purdue University. Best Team Spirit: Louisiana Tech University. Perseverance in the Face of Adversity: University of Missouri. The Shell Eco-Marathon Americas energy challenge will return to Houston in 2011.