DETROIT — More than 100 student teams from across the country have descended in Detroit for the Shell Eco-Marathon. They are here to show off their ultra fuel efficient vehicles that they designed and built and of course, race them!
Teams had two vehicle classes to choose from: prototype or urbanconcept. Three energy sources were available: battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell or internal combustion which includes compressed natural gas. Teams must complete 10 laps or 6 miles with a minimum average speed of 15 mph. The time requirement is 24 minutes.
First, I visited the team from University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) to check on their battery electric car and their internal combustion engine car.
“This is our first year with two cars,” said Ishi Keenum, a U-M senior in environmental engineering. “We use a two-year design cycle. Last year, we got 2,500 miles per gallon on the battery electric. We’re hoping to beat that this year. Historically, we’ve been an internal combustion engine team. Last year was our big switch to battery electric with this car. We’ve been having challenges with switching from a different composition to Shell Eco-Marathon. We thought that battery electric was a lot more the way of the future.”
What has been the most fun part of this experience?
“It’s really cool to be able to interact with the team from Oregon State and CalTech all in one roof in Detroit,” Keenum explained. “You have time to meet everyone and really see the struggles they are going through as the same as yours and to connect will be great for the future.”
Then, I stopped by the team from Plymouth-Canton Educational Park (P-CEP). They are also working on a battery electric vehicle.
“We used 3D-printed circuit housings for our boards,” said Candice Williams, a senior at Plymouth High School. “That was something that was fun to make. We decided on electric because we all have an interest in software of electrical engineering. Also, we got a sponsorship from Yazaki which does wiring harnesses and such.”
How is driving one of these cars different from a regular car?
“People don’t typically drive a regular car laying on their back,” she answered. “That’s definitely something that you have to get used to. Also, being so close to the ground can be kind of intimidating. You built it so you have to trust it. (laughs) Yeah, definitely it’s a rush. It’s a lot of fun.”
Later on, I visited the team from Kettering University in Flint to check on their battery electric car. They borrowed a body and mold from the University of Sherbrooke (Team Beyond).
“The car is a little heavier than we would like to right now,” said Kettering team manager Jamie Everhart. “We gave it a really nice shine job. The carbon (fiber) came out great. Our steering we had to switch out within the last week. That came out good despite we have a heavier steering system. For having a first year car, it’s beautiful. Right now, we are having some issues with braking. Thankfully, Duke EV came through huge for us and gave us a connector that we really needed. We should be good for technical inspection. Just putting a few last minute things on it.”
What has been the most fun part of this experience for you?
“When we actually had problems, scrambling even when the emotions are a little bit high,” Everhart explained. “Just coming through with a solution. Probably the best moment was we just locked our brakes over here on the ramp. That was the first time we cheered as a team. That felt actually nice to have a win.”
Finally, I stopped by the team from Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. They are working on an internal combustion engine car with gasoline.
“This year, we really focused on trying to get the reliability up,” said Sean Michel, a Cal Poly senior in mechanical engineering. “Last year, we had a cool design but it was kind of unreliable. We had a lot of testing this year trying to make sure everything is reliable and works great. We’ve been slowly improving to get those extra few miles per gallon. We run a gasoline powertrain. It’s the most competitive division here. A lot of the top schools are also running in that division.”
How does it feel to be here in Detroit among all of the other teams?
“It’s great to be back. It’s really cool to see what all of the other teams are doing. You know, see what we can do better. It’s kind of nice to talk to other teams. We’re all friends now. We see a lot of familiar faces if you’ve been here for a while. It’s good to talk to other schools and see what they are up to. Especially since we have a lot of new members to see what the competition is like. A lot of the team has never been to the Shell Eco-Marathon before. Now they have a baseline to compare what our car looks like.”
Kids had the opportunity to build their own Salt Water Fuel Cell model cars and race against their friends on a track inside Cobo. It was sponsored by Shell.
The student teams will compete on Saturday and Sunday on the outdoor track near Cobo Center.
The award ceremony begins at 4:30 pm on Sunday. Cash prizes up to $3,000 are being offered for the top teams in each category: once for Prototype and once for UrbanConcept vehicles, in the three energy categories of Internal Combustion, Hydrogen Fuel Cell and Battery Electric.
Admission and parking are free for the 2017 Shell Eco-Marathon at Cobo Center in Detroit. For more information, visit http://www.shell.us/energy-and-innovation/shell-ecomarathon-americas.html