Dominating at this year’s Eco-Marathon Americas, Canadian team Alerion Supermileage from Laval University showed the world what is possible for the future of fuel efficiency as their prototype CT2.0 traveled 3,587.1 miles on a gallon of gasoline.
Beginning their worldwide event in Houston Texas, Shell’s Annual Eco-Marathon gives high school and college students from across the globe a chance to showcase their innovations in design as fuel efficiency and new technologies in electric, solar and hybrid vehicles are tested. The largest Americas event yet, since the first Eco-Marathon in 1939, over 120 teams participated this year. The marathon is broken down in two categories, prototype and urban concept, the main difference in the categories being three or four wheels.
Laval University and its team leader 23-year-old engineering student Philippe Bouchard have taken the win from 2009 to 2011 in the fuel efficiency category. Finishing his fourth year on team Alerion with a final victory, Bouchard has created quite the legacy for the Canadian team.
“What the Laval team accomplished is truly remarkable and it underscores the long way our own cars and trucks can go to improve their fuel efficiency,” said Mark Singer, global project manager of Shell Eco-marathon. “Each year, dedicated high school and university student teams astonish us with the advances they make in achieving unheard-of fuel-efficiency improvements.”
Not easy, Bouchard and his team including friend and computer software expert Guillaume Beardsell and electronics specialist Louis-David Coulombe worked over 30 hours a week for 5 months on their prototype, “We had such a good performance but you know it doesn’t come without any effort,” said Bouchard.
Houston played an important role as the climate benefitted the competition. “It is a nice place for this kind of car composition,” said Bouchard. “Because to get a good combustion you need your engine to be really warm, and down in Houston it’s really easy to get 94 degrees all week long.”
Utilizing new technologies, in addition to multiple forms of engine testing, team Alerion Supermileage had access to Laval University’s supercomputer “Colosse” to conduct various tests on the aerodynamics. Using CFD software (Computational Fluid Dynamics) the team tested extensive numerical simulations to improve performance and to increase their understanding of aerodynamics.
“To figure out which was the most aerodynamic, we were changing little details every single time to get better drag,” said Bouchard. “It took almost an entire summer to do that but now that you can see results and we have such an aerodynamic car and a good looking car at the same time.”
The engine base utilized is a 3.5 HP (2.61 kW) Briggs & Stratton four-stroke single-cylinder lawn mower engine, “It is not a well known engine base, but it was something we had to work with if we wanted to take part in SAE competition in Michigan as it is the main requirement,” said Bouchard. “We also had a small motorcycle head and we put the two together. We then used adjusted sleeves, an adjusted connecting rod and an adjusted crankshaft.”
To increase control of the amount of fuel that goes into the combustion chamber, Bouchard and his team replaced the magneto lighting and carburetor with electric
lighting and a fuel injection system. “It is what helped us the most,” said Bouchard. “I will say that with a carburetor you cannot go over 2000 mpg, it is impossible. But with a fuel injection you can control a lot more of the amount of fuel that goes into the engine, and that was the key to success if you want to go further with a drop of fuel.”
Despite the fact the engine can propel the car at approx 31 mph, the team for efficiency reasons maintained the prototype at 19 mph using the engine at full throttle only part of the way and utilizing the aerodynamic aspects of the car to continue.
“We spent so many hours tuning the engine and really learning how it works and I really enjoyed it, said Bouchard. “You need quite a lot of torque to accelerate the vehicle, and I know engines better now because of it. It took a lot of time but I am really proud of all the work we put in with the victory.”
As steering is pivotal to success, the steering system on this year’s prototype utilizes the Ackermann angle. According to Alerion, “The purpose of the steering system of a Supermileage vehicle is simple: reduce the friction of the wheels against the pavement, have maximum control over the handling of the vehicle and still manage to make the lightest vehicle possible. Also, the handling must respect a turning radius of a minimum 6 meters and a small braking distance.”
At a budget of $30,000, “We do not want to spend more than we have,” said Bouchard. “That is why we don’t start over building a car every single year … for example the chassis that we have right now we had it last year, and will hopefully have it for two more.”
The exterior of the prototype utilizes carbon fiber, a lightweight exterior option as weight heavily effects fuel consumption. In designing their prototype frame by increasing the front of the vehicle they were able to reduce the drag coefficient. The team also utilized Michelin Radial tires, “really expensive” Bouchard claims but “totally worth it when you put that on your car.”
Second place in the gasoline prototype category with a total 2,308 mpg was Mater Dei High School’s Mater Dei Supermileage team. Mater Dei High School also took home first place in the battery electric category as their electric prototype traveled 600.1 m/kWh, and from Grand Rapids, Michigan in second place, the Innovation Station prototype traveled 282.2 m/kWh. Despite advancements each year in the gasoline prototype category, no team has yet to beat the world record of 8, 914 mpg still standing from French team Microjoule in the 2003 Eco-Marathon Europe.
As the Federal Government will require a 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standard in 2025, events like Shell’s Eco- Marathon gives students worldwide a chance to challenge their governments future energy policies. As Americas is just the first chapter, Shell Eco-Marathon Europe will be in the Netherlands May 15-19 and closing with the Asia event July 4-7 in Malaysia.
“By participating in this kind of competition and working on fuel efficient cars we learn more about the details that make systems, cars and machines efficiency. It is a kind of sensibility for young engineers that will be getting on the job market in a couple years from now,” said Bouchard. “At the same time it shows the world that fuel efficiency is possible. It just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of work but if young engineers can do it, why can’t the big car companies do it.”
Aticle Written by: Emma Watson