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Eco-marathon Tests Fuel Efficiency Possibilities

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

So the Great Energy Challenge Blog 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.

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.

See National Geographic’s previous Eco-marathon coverage: