Eco-Marathon team brings home first-place trophy


By Meredith Staub

Both the Eco-Illini and Illini UrbanConcept teams, with their vehicles.
Both the Eco-Illini and Illini UrbanConcept teams, with their vehicles.
Both the Eco-Illini and Illini UrbanConcept teams, with their vehicles.
The Eco-Illini Team and the Illini EcoConcept Team competed in the Shell Eco-Marathon in Houston, Texas on March 29th, and brought back another first-place trophy for the University of Illinois!

The Shell Eco-Marathon is an engineering competition in which teams from all over the world design, build, and test energy-efficient vehicles. They hold annual events in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. The competitions are divided into two categories according to the type of vehicle. In the Prototype category, each car is put in a sort of time trial, in which the distance and the fuel burned is measured and used to calculate fuel efficiency. In the Urban Concept category, the goal is to build a fuel-efficient vehicle that is closer in type to typical passenger cars, and so is required to perform “stop and go” driving in imitation of daily use as opposed to the long-duration testing of the Prototype competition.

The Illini EcoConcept team competed in the Urban Concept competition. The team designed a hydrogen car, which uses a gas bottle of hydrogen as the fuel source. This hydrogen is converted to electricity in the fuel cell.

Their car, named The Chief, was awarded first place and a $2000 prize in the Fuel Cell category, reaching 17.6 miles per kilowatt-hour (approximately equivalent to 66 miles per gallon).

The Eco-Illini Team competed in the Prototype competition of the Shell Eco-Marathon. They built two cars: one to run on ethanol, and one to run on gasoline. The first-place winner in 2011 had a gasoline-powered car that measured around 2,600 miles per gallon. Eco-Illini’s goal was 2,700 miles per gallon. Their new strategy this year was to cut the engine while coasting so as to not waste fuel, and they focused on the aerodynamic portion of the design to make the coasting easier.

In the 2011 competition, the Eco-Illini’s ethanol engine car, called “Blue Lightning,” won first place in the alternative energy category and tenth place overall at the competition. Their second car, “Orange Thunder”, finished eighth in the unleaded gas category and also in the overall competition, running at approximately 900 miles per gallon.

Unfortunately, the Eco-Illini team ran into several significant technical difficulties upon their arrival at the 2012 competition. The two prototypes did not end up completing a qualified run, so their final mile per gallon measurement was not recorded.

“I was really impressed by how well they worked as a team over several very stressful days,” said Professor Mike Philpott, advisor to both teams. “They tackled many technical problems and setbacks systematically and successfully, and almost came through…but ultimately couldn’t quite complete a qualifying round in the time remaining. Great credit to them for designing and building a well-packaged, compact, aerodynamic, cool-looking car! It’s a good foundation for next year’s team to build upon, and I am sure will ultimately be a winning solution.”