CEDARVILLE — Imagine driving a vehicle that gets 1,400 miles per gallon.
A group of Cedarville University engineering students have built it. You can’t drive the car, but the students will be able to April 25-27 in Houston at the Shell Eco-marathon.
The marathon challenges student teams from around the world to design, build and test ultra energy-efficient vehicles. With annual events first in the Americas, then Europe and Asia, the winners are the teams that go the furthest using the least amount of energy. The events spark debate about the future of mobility and inspire young engineers to push the boundaries of fuel efficiency.
Cedarville has three cars entered, including the aforementioned vehicle nicknamed Gold Lightning II. It could make it to California on 1.5 gallons of gas.
They also have a vehicle that is part electric, part solar which can go 250 miles on $.06 of energy, the equivalent of 14,583 miles per gallon according to calculations by faculty advisor Larry Zavodney.
The cars are built, enhanced and maintained by students. Then they show them off at the marathon. The race is on a .6 mile track around a 12-acre public park in Houston. Drivers must complete 10 laps in 25 minutes.
But unlike most races, it’s not about going fast.
“The biggest part of the competition is getting the largest distance for the least amount of fuel,” said sophomore Ben Ingis, a mechanical engineering major from New Jersey. “That’s the heart and soul.”
Tyler Dicks, a sophomore computer engineering major from Hungary, summed it up another way.
“We want to take up as much time as we can because that means you’re using less fuel,” he said.
The vehicles are totally high-tech. Thanks to Dicks’ computer and electronics savvy mind, the driver and his/her teammates can view real-time data from the vehicle on a tablet inside the vehicle and over the Internet.
“It takes in the speed of the car, the current from the drive and regeneration motors … and sends it via blue tooth to the tablet,” Dicks said.
Dicks and his team developed the application used to collect the data along much of the fuse board. Other team members take on various tasks. Ingis is in charge of the mechanical portion of a third vehicle nicknamed Urbie, an urban concept vehicle that can get 700 miles per gallon.
“I’m not super into cars, but I love building stuff,” Ingis said.
The work they do is all on their own time. But the time they spend is equivalent to a three-credit course, approximately 10 hours per week but more as they get closer to the marathon.
They don’t get credits, just bragging rights if they do well. The team was able to brag a bit last year, placing fourth overall, first among United States universities in the gas division and second overall among universities. Approximately 125 teams are entered this year.
Acceptance isn’t guaranteed. When teams apply to enter, they must show schematics, safety shut-off sequences and motor control documentation, among other things.
“There are some schools that were not approved,” Zavodney said.