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Qatar Students Take On Challenge to Test a Home-Grown Fuel, GTL, Made From Natural Gas

Two teams from Qatar were the first to build cars powered by gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuel in Shell* Eco-marathon Asia since the regional competition began in 2010.

The Aggielanders from Texas A&M University at Qatar, which contested in the Urban Concept category, failed to complete the trial runs while Gernas 2 from Qatar University, which joined the Prototype category, won second place in the Alternative Diesel Fuel Award in their debut race.

Both teams said they chose to use GTL fuel because it is cleaner than conventional diesel. Converted from natural gas, the colorless and odorless liquid fuel is free of sulfur and emits fewer pollutants during combustion.

“It’s more eco-friendly. It’s being used for airplanes, although not cars yet,” said Hussein Zahreddine, the team manager of The Aggielanders when met at the Sepang International Circuit on July 7.

The 23-year-old added that Qatar is now the world’s largest producer of GTL fuel since Shell opened the largest processing plant at Ras Laffan Industrial City in June 2011.

Unfortunately, their team were not able to finish the trial runs due to a problem with their chain holder that connects the engine to the wheels.

Gernas 2 managed to achieve a fuel efficiency record of 118 kilometers per liter (277 miles per gallon) but their team also failed to complete earlier runs and had to overcome a few hurdles to succeed at their last try.

Team manager Bilal Walid Abdullatif, 23, remarked that it was challenging to build a GTL prototype as there is no commercial combustion engine designed specifically for the use of GTL fuel yet.

“There isn’t any example to learn from. We’ve to use a diesel machine and built everything from scratch,” said the graduating mechanical engineering student.

He said initially air had seeped into their internal combustion engine and messed up the air fuel ratio in the machine. The team would later use used metal clips and tape to seal the joints along the pipe to prevent excess air from seeping in.

The second and larger hurdle the team had to overcome was to increase the car’s torque, the twisting force generated by rotating parts in the engine to ensure the car accelerates smoothly.

“We’ve speed, but not enough torque to achieve it,” said Bilal, and as a result, their car could not climb up the hill at the tracks.

Despite the odds, the team successfully modified the clutch and other parts to adjust the force of their torque, complete their final go at the circuit and brought home $1,000 by winning second place at the Alternative Diesel Fuel Award.

Shell is sponsor of National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains autonomy over content.