World travels re-energize Illini EcoConcept car team


Miranda Holloway, MechSE Communications

A trip to London earlier this month for the Shell European Eco-marathon Drivers’ World Championships offered the Illini EcoConcept car team a chance to learn from their peers in the world of energy-efficient vehicles.
After achieving impressive first- and second-place finishes with their hydrogen fuel cell car at the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas in April in Detroit, the team was invited by Shell to attend the London events, said Kenneth Hoffman, team president and mechanical engineering senior. 
Hoffman and the team did not bring their car on the trip, but attended to watch the inaugural world championships in person. Twenty-four teams raced UrbanConcept vehicles (focused on real-world driveability and design) in several energy categories: internal combustion engines using petrol, diesel, or natural gas- or ethanol-based fuel, and the electric mobility category, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and lithium-based batteries.
“We learned a tremendous amount from the European and Asian teams about their design, manufacturing, testing, and competition, which we cannot wait to implement into our design once we are back on campus in the fall. It was truly inspiring to see so many similar students from all over come together in hopes of mastering a common goal,” said Hoffman. 
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Shell’s Eco-marathon series of competitions challenges students around the world to design, build, and test ultra-energy efficient vehicles—either UrbanConcept or Prototype (maximum efficiency, less passenger comfort). Three annual competitions in Asia, the Americas, and Europe allow student teams to see who can go the furthest on the least amount of fuel—and their new championship race identifies the world’s most energy-efficient driver. According to the Shell website, the competition dates back to 1939 when Shell Oil Company employees in the U.S. made a friendly wager over who could travel furthest on the same amount of fuel. 
“The one-day race combined the excitement of motorsport with the thrill of being constrained to a certain amount of fuel,” said Hoffman. 
The student-run Illini EcoConcept team designs and fabricates practical and energy-efficient vehicles for the annual Shell Eco-marathon UrbanConcept competition.