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This week marked the 26th Shell Eco-marathon, a competition where innovation reigns supreme.  Laval University from Canada took top honors at the Houston, Texas event, as did Purdue University and the Cicero North Syracuse High School team from New York.

Eco-marathon

While the Eco-marathon (a competition similar to SMV that encourages teams of students to build fuel efficient vehicles) as we know it has only been around since 1985, Shell scientists held their own version of the event way back in 1939.  Of course, this involved a bunch of scientists taking bets on whose car could get the best miles per gallon, so it is a little different from the competition today.

There are two types of competitors at the Eco-marathon: prototype models (cars that try to be the most fuel efficient while meeting basic safety measures) and UrbanConcept (vehicles that are similar to cars you’d see on roadways but are still as fuel efficient as possible).  Car models can run on pretty much anything, including:

  • Diesel
  • Petrol
  • Liquefied Petroleum Gas
  • Biodiesel
  • Ethanol
  • Solar
  • Electric
  • Biofuels
  • Gas to Liquids

Prizes are awarded based on categories.  This year in the Prototype section, Laval got 2,487.5 miles per gallon in the combustion engine category.  The Cicero team took top honors in the fuel cell/hydrogen cars with 780.9 miles per gallon while Purdue won the solar competition with 4,548 mpg.

Purdue Solar Car

Purdue students were undoubtedly pretty thrilled about their performance in the solar category.

Over on the UrbanConcept side, the Mater Dei High School from Evansville, IN won the combustion engine category with 437.2 mpg.  Other awards, such as People’s Choice, Design, and Best Team Spirit were doled out, as you can see in this complete list of winners.

So it’s clear that this competition is set up a little differently than the Supermileage Vehicle event.  It’s run by a private company (all Eco-marathoners run Shell fuels, natch), there are fewer specs for the vehicles, and it’s open to students from all walks of life, rather than collegiate engineers.  Put simply, I think the whole thing is great.  Hopefully I can learn more about it and report back, but from what I do know, the set-up seems pretty neat.  Shell is encouraging fuel efficiency in any form and giving kids a chance to experiment and think about different ways of doing things without having to invest millions of research dollars (although I think those investments are important, too).  Students are a fantastic resource, and as a student, I say capitalize on us!  Use us (within reason)!  We need experience, you need people doing work, and we may as well be doing work that can make a difference, right?

If I’ve figured out anything, it’s that there is no single clear way forward.  There are a million ways to skin a cat, and while hopefully we won’t have to figure out a million different paths forward from here on out, we certainly need all these ideas and skill sets.  Way to go, Eco-marathon competitors!

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I’m on this electric craze lately.  Electric has a lot of benefits, from their emissions (none) to their dependence on foreign oil (none) to their fun way of sneaking up on people (cool).

It might have started with an electric golf cart I get to drive sometimes.  Topping out at perhaps 12 mph, it’s fun to drive around the block, and also just around the yard when the dog chases it.  It’s so quiet I can creep up behind people and scare them, and the horses I ride think it’s some sort of alien machine (they’re internal combustion engine gals).

Golf Cart

Oh yeah, that's what I'm talkin' bout.

But anyways, electric vehicles are a great solution and have the potential to help the environment a lot.  However, when looking strictly at environmental benefits, it’s not so easy as just getting all plug-in cars.  We have to take a look at where that electricity comes from.

My neighbor just redid his roof with solar panels – that’s a great start.  Hawaii is committed to producing 70% of its energy with renewable sources by 2030 – even cooler.  Texas just set a record by producing almost 20% of its electricity needs with wind power.  And the nuclear debate is still going on, so we’ll see where we get there.

Bottom line?  If electric vehicles are the way to go, let’s make sure they’re as clean as possible.  We get clean now or later, and it makes more sense to do it now.

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