“This was a real year of firsts,” Dick Williams, president of Shell Windenergy, told the crowd of hundreds in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas Sunday evening, at the closing ceremony to the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012.
“This is the first year we had a flash mob come dance on our stage,” said Williams. The event had gotten off to a raucous start, with students dancing and hamming it up in front of their teammembers and supporters.
“This is the first time someone got their head shaved because their team had a good run. This is the first year we had a team mascot [a guy in a plush horse suit], and our first articulated car [a team from Grand Rapids High School in Minnesota used segmented hockey sticks as part of their chassis to facilitiate sharper turns]. One of my favorite cars I call the big pickle,” Williams continued.
The official big winners on the track included Mater Dei High School from Evansville and Louisiana Tech University, two teams who have won before at the annual challenge, which this year brought together a record number of entrants from 37 high schools and 44 colleges. This included five teams from Brazil, five from Canada, two from Mexico, and 124 from the U.S.
Students competed by driving six-mile runs around downtown Houston’s Discovery Green, while trying to maintain an average speed of 15 mph. The goal is the highest fuel efficiency, in categories that included gas, diesel, ethanol, electric, solar-powered, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars.
Along the way there were a few crashes (this reporter is not aware of any injuries) and plenty of mechanical challenges, which pushed students to work together and think on their feet. Audrey Laine, a teammember from Laval University in Quebec, said, “I think it is very exciting, and I’m very proud because of my teammates.”
Laval had entered this year’s competition as a favorite, having won the student design award the past three years running. The team unveiled a new, super-aerodynamic body for their gas car this year, but they struggled with some technical problems through the four-day event.
Laine, who drove the futuristic-looking car, said the hardest part of the road course is avoiding the bumps. About weaving around the other drivers on the track, she said, “It’s like a jungle.”
Jose Bravo, a chief scientist with Shell who works in manufacturing, and who was volunteering at the Shell-sponsored event, said the Eco-marathon brings together mobility, innovation, new fuels, construction, a competitive landscape, and environmental concerns. “If someone breaks the lap record they’re not going to win, because it’s all about staying the course,” Bravo explained.
“Reliability is critical, because you’ve got to complete the race,” Bravo said. He added that teams that have been coming to the Shell Eco-marathon year after year have an advantage at awards time.
Still, there were some upsets on the podium, with Laval struggling and the Eco-design award going to a local school that participated for only its second year. While Westside High School collected their trophy and check (each winner got $1,000 or $2,000, depending on the category and level) for their bamboo-and-hemp electric car, the loud speakers played Kermit the Frog’s “It Ain’t Easy Being Green.”
Westside was also presented with a “basket of parts we found on the track,” Williams said.
Louisiana Tech scored the design award for “one heck of a paint job, for a hot rod with flames on it, and for overall one heck of a design,” said Williams. Tech also won the spirit award, for having “one heck of a margarita machine in their paddock. Their alumni were the loudest out there, and they were throwing Mardi Gras beads. But the most important thing is that they mentored five [high school] teams to come here this year.”
Grand Rapids High School was given the technological innovation award for their unique turning system, in which the driver bends their body to make the turn, thanks to those hockey sticks.
James Madison High School from San Antonio, Texas won an award for perseverance in the face of adversity, after their team’s garage was broken into the night before they left for the competition. Thieves had made off with the team’s wire, leaving them scrambling.
In a light moment, someone shouted, “Someone must have stole them!” since the team had already headed home by awards time.
Besides giving out the rest of the awards, below, Williams thanked co-sponsors Michelin and Pennzoil. He also gave out two $1,000 scholarships.
Toward the end of the evening, Williams said, “You’all are an inspiration to us here at Shell. We look at what you can do with bolts, tires, fuel cells, batteries, everything like that, and it makes us hopeful for the future.” He added that Shell is considering expanding to a fourth location next year, in addition to tournaments in Europe and Asia that are planned for this summer.
During presentation of the award for best diesel car, Flo Rida’s song “Good Feeling” played over the soundsystem. Much of the crowd spontaneously sang along, “Oh-oh oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, yeah.” It’s a fitting song for the successful event.
(Check out the original video I shot and edited about the competition, above, and see a gallery of photos.)
The first place winners in each category for Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012, as copied from the official press release:
Prototype Division [concept cars]
First Place: With a best run of 2,188.6 mpg, the team from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Ind., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, 9th Gen. Prize sponsored by Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines.
First Place: The Mater Dei High School Supermileage team achieved 419 mi/kWh (1,587 mpg equivalent) and won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, 8th Gen.
Alternative Gasoline Energy
First Place: With a best run of 1,441.5 mpg, the team from Mater Dei High School won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, 6th Gen.
First Place: With a best run of 1,289.8 mpg, the team from Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, Diesel Weasel.
Alternative Diesel Energy
First Place: With a best run of 674.9 mpg, the team from Alden-Conger High School in Alden, Minn., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, BigRig.
First Place: The Newburgh Free Academy team from Newburgh, N.Y., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their solar vehicle, The Batmobile, which achieved 63.2 mi/kWh (239 mpg equivalent).
First Place: The Cicero North-Syracuse High School team from Cicero, N.Y., achieved 44.6 mi/kWh (169 mpg equivalent) and won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, Clean Green Machine.
UrbanConcept Division [street-legal cars]
First Place: With a best run of 611 mpg, the team from Mater Dei High School won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, George. Prize sponsored by Shell Nitrogen Enriched Gasolines.
First Place: With a best run of 488.7 mpg, the team from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, HotRod.
Solar Power Energy
First Place: The Purdue University team from West Lafayette, Ind., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their solar vehicle, Celeritas, which achieved 69 mi/kWh (261 mpg equivalent).
First Place: The Grand Rapids High School team from Grand Rapids, Minn., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their battery electric vehicle, The Cure, which achieved 49.5 mi/kWh (187 mpg equivalent).
Alternative Diesel Energy
First Place: The Warsaw Area Career Center team from Warsaw, Ind., won a US$2,000 first place prize with their FAME powered vehicle, Bengal Beast, which achieved 106.1 mpg.
First Place: The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign team from Champaign, Ill., achieved 17.6 mi/kWh (66 mpg equivalent) and won a US$2,000 first place prize with their vehicle, The Chief.
2012 Eco-Design Award Sponsored by Michelin
A special “Eco-Design Award” was presented to Westside High School for their Prototype vehicle, Best Piece O’Scrap. Their design contributed to the fuel efficiency of their vehicle and incorporated recycled and eco-friendly materials. The team won a US$1,000 prize for their use of bamboo as the frame of the vehicle as well as the team’s use of an alternative direct drive.
Safety Award Sponsored by Michelin
The “Safety Award” recognized three teams who made the most extensive efforts to comply with the safety regulations of Shell Eco-marathon Americas. This award went to Sullivan High School and Granite Falls High School. These teams all demonstrated safety as a top priority in vehicle design, construction and onsite behavior at Shell Eco-marathon Americas. Each team was awarded a prize of US$1,000.
Technical Innovation Award Sponsored by Southwest Research Institute
The winner of the Technical Innovation Award goes to Grand Rapids High School for their unique steering system which relies on the driver bending in the direction of the turn and made possible by the flexible spine with slide plates of hockey sticks. The team won a US$1,000 prize for their vehicle, Sidewinder.
Design Award Sponsored by Michelin
Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2012 “Design Award” was presented to Louisiana Tech University for their vehicle entry HotRod which featured an impressive design while still considering aerodynamics along with creative graphics and paint work. For their design, the team won a US$1,000 prize.
This award recognized the Purdue University team who made outstanding communications efforts supporting their participation at Shell Eco-marathon Americas. For their efforts, the team won a US$1,000 prize with their UrbanConcept vehicle, Celeritas.
Best Team Spirit
The “Best Team Spirit Award” was presented to Louisiana Tech University who fostered cooperation and collaboration throughout the competition. The team’s spirit transcended their on-site activities as they helped mentor five additional high school teams this year to get them to Shell Eco-marathon Americas
2012. For their spirit, the team was awarded a prize of US$1,000.
Perseverance in the Face of Adversity
The “Perseverance in the Face of Adversity Award” was presented to James Madison High School from San Antonio, Texas, for overcoming the obstacles the team faced to make it to the event. For their perseverance, the team won a prize of US$1,000.
Scholarship Winners from Southwest Research Institute
Congratulations to Nathan Park from the University of Missouri and Enrique Melendez from the University of Texas El Paso who each won US$1,000 scholarships from Southwest Research Institute.
Scholarship Winners from SKF
Congratulations to Alexander Miyakawa from the University of California, Berkley and Ed Jordan from North DeSoto High School in Stone Wall, La., who each won US$500 scholarships from SKF.
Brian Clark Howard is a writer and editor with NationalGeographic.com. He was formerly an editor at The Daily Green and E/The Environmental Magazine and has contributed to many publications, including TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, MailOnline.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN and elsewhere. His latest book, with Kevin Shea, is Build Your Own Small Wind Power System.