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.


Shell Eco Challenge


“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.


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.


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.