Canadian College Teams, Midwest High Schools Win Big in Race for Fuel Efficiency

A winning vehicle designed by students in a race for fuel efficiency can travel from New York to Los Angeles on one gallon of gas.

After a last-minute scramble for qualifying runs by many of the 126 student teams, Shell* Eco-marathon Americas ended Sunday with nearly a dozen first-place winners in different vehicle and fuel categories.

Canadian college teams and Midwest high schools picked up many of the trophies that night after dominating all weekend on a downtown Houston track.

Overcoming friction problems in their gas-powered Alérion Supermileage vehicle, Quebec’s Université Laval secured the top spot with a run of 2,824 miles per gallon.

But the University of Toronto team gave the longtime winners a run for their money with second-place success in the same category.

“We’re the only team from Americas to build their own engine,” said team leader and fourth-year mechanical engineering student Jonathan Hamway.

It’s a huge advantage but also a lot of work, Hamway said.  The team logged in 5,000 man-hours over the past eight months on the project. The work paid off with two off-track awards for technical innovation and tribology.

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Bow-tied science and engineering students perform the Cuban Shuffle dance Sunday night in Houston after concluding a nail-biting race for fuel efficiency. Photo courtesy of Shell Eco-marathon.

Canadian counterparts Université de Sherbrooke won an off-track ward for their spirit and perseverance. Sporting cowboy hats and green bandanas, the students also danced and celebrated their way to the stage to accept a first-place award in the UrbanConcept battery electric category.

Shell* Eco-marathon Technical Director Norman Koch said the category was much tougher this year, with students having to make their own motor controllers, or the heart of an electric motor.

But the Sherbrooke students captured the spirit of collaboration when helping teams who struggled with the technical requirement.

“You’re doing the things we really love to see: applying engineering to innovation and collaborating,” said Hugh Mitchell, Shell Corp.’s chief human resources and corporate officer. “Science and engineering depends on collaboration, and you’re all bringing it.”

A move next year to the Motor City put the spotlight on several Michigan teams this weekend.

With two prototype vehicles in the gas- and battery-powered categories, The University of Detroit Jesuit High School didn’t pick up any on-track awards, but team leader Jacob Byrd said the students didn’t walk away empty-handed.

“It’s less about competing against other teams,” he said. “We’re trying to beat our personal goals and make personal strides.”

Anything is possible next year as the race for fuel efficiency moves to their backyard. While taking a break Sunday from nail-biting safety and technical inspections, Koch said to expect more challenges.

The Detroit course will have uphill and downhill portions and left and right turns, which will test all parts of the student-built vehicles, Koch said.

“That’s why I’m excited about Detroit,” he said. “From a mobility point of view, it is much more of a realistic track that you and I drive every day in our cars, and that’s what the students should get used to.”


Gasoline fuel: Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, with a run of 2,824 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Alérion Supermileage.

Diesel fuel: Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Indiana, with a run of 1,889.3 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Easy on Gas.

Battery electric: Mater Dei High School in Evansville, Indiana, with a run of 537.2 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Mater Dei Supermileage 3.

Hydrogen: The University of Colorado Denver with a run of 37.4 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Archetype.

Ethanol: The University of Colorado Boulder with a run of 1,771.4 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Ralphie 2250.

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Mater Dei High School won gas-powered UrbanConcept category with a run of 901.5 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Elroy, last weekend at the Eco-marathon. Photo courtesy Shell Eco-marathon.


Gasoline fuel: Mater Dei High School with a run of 901.5 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Elroy.

Diesel fuel: Alden-Conger High School in Alden, Minnesota, with a run of 458.7 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Superbird.

Battery electric: Université de Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Canada, with a run of 202 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, E-Volve.

Hydrogen: The University of Alberta in Alberta, Canada, with a run of 18.4 miles per kilowatt hour with their vehicle, Steve.

Ethanol: Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, California, with a run of 102.3 miles per gallon with their vehicle, Green Grizzly Machine.

*Shell is sponsor of the Great Energy Challenge. National Geographic maintains authority over content.