Eco-marathon Tests Fuel Efficiency Possibilities

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of National Geographic Society. Author credit goes to Marianne Lavelle.

In the world’s quest for energy solutions, the ideas and dedication of young people will be crucial.

So the Great Energy Challenge Blog (over at National Geographic) will feature the stories of high school and college students who have spent much of the past year focusing on the problem of building vehicles that use less fuel. The young mechanics and aspiring engineers are participants in Shell Eco-marathon, a competition on three continents to design, build, and drive the most fuel-efficient car.

image via Shell

Before the students gather in Houston, March 29 to April 1, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, May 17-19, or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 4-7, we’ve asked them to share stories of their work on one of the most important engineering problems the world faces. The results they’ve achieved in past competition have been astonishing, with last year’s top winner, the French team Microjoule from technical school La Joliverie, achieving 8,674 miles per gallon (3,688 kilometers/liter) at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz in Germany.

This year, the Europe competition will take place on city streets instead of a raceway for the first time, a more challenging surface reflecting the real-world bumps and roughness that can cut down on mileage.  The Americas competition has been run on city streets around downtown Houston’s Discovery Green for the past two years.

Students may choose any fuel or electric vehicle technology to propel their vehicles. Although most of the cars entered are in the futuristic “prototype” category, where extreme aerodynamic styling and lightweight materials are the rule, beginning in 2009, Shell added a new category to the contest, challenging students to design “urban concept” vehicles that meet safety criteria for driving on city streets.

A world that is still struggling to achieve 50 mile-per-gallon (21-kilometer-per-liter) averages in its vehicle fleet, with greater integration of electric vehicles, can draw much inspiration from student teams who drastically reduce fuel consumption with lightweight materials, aerodynamic styling, creativity, and hard work.

The Great Energy Challenge is an important three-year National Geographic initiative designed to help all of us better understand the breadth and depth of our current energy situation. National Geographic has assembled some of the world’s foremost researchers and scientists to help tackle the challenge. Led by Thomas Lovejoy, a National Geographic conservation fellow and renowned biologist, the team of advisers will work together to identify and provide support for projects focused on innovative energy solutions.