By Ariel Schwartz
It's time to announce the winners of the annual Shell Eco-Marathon, in which students try to build incredibly efficient vehicles using gas, electricity, diesel, and hydrogen as fuels. You probably wouldn't want to take a long trip in any of the winners, but the results are astounding.
Every year, the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas challenges over 100 teams of high school and university students to build and race incredibly energy-efficient vehicles of all types--solar, electric, fuel-cell, gasoline-powered, and more. This year's race was especially impressive: Laval University's prototype gasoline vehicle achieved a staggering 3,587 miles per gallon on the Houston race track. That's the most mileage per gallon ever seen at a Shell Eco-Marathon Americas competition.
In the UrbanConcept Diesel category, which focuses on practical vehicle designs (Laval's prototype vehicle was focused on efficiency more than practicality), Louisiana Tech took first place for its HotRod diesel car. The vehicle traveled around the track at 315.9 mpg.
Rakesh Ravishankar, a member of the team and a student at Louisiana Tech pursuing a master's degree in engineer, tells us that the team's secret is mostly just hard work: "Sometimes we work on Saturdays and Sundays from morning until night. It's the dedication of the students working on the project, the interest to do something more, keep pushing the limits everyday. We also have a lot of sophisticated equipment."
The team is already working on next year's design, which will have a completely new drive train. But when I spoke to Ravishankar weeks before Louisiana Tech emerged as one of the winners in the competition, he was already confident about this year's prospects. "We're actually hoping to beat our own record," he says.
Purdue University also took a first place spot in the UrbanConcept Battery Electric category for Navitas, which achieved 78.1 m/kWh. According to team president Zach Latetina, this vehicle is the product of lessons learned from past years. "It's significantly lighter. We shaved off 200 pounds," he says. "We have a new space-grade array increasing solar cell efficiency, and we made concentrators for our array." Latetina believes that his team has been successful because of its communication skills--in spite of the fact that members speak a number of different languages.
Other winners this year include Sullivan High School's Black Diesel vehicle, which took first place in the Prototype Diesel category; Mater Dei High School's vehicle, 8th Gen, which took first in the Prototype Battery Electric category; and the University of Colorado Denver's vehicle, H2 Eco-Challenger, which won in the Prototype Hydrogen category.
Check out all the winners in the slideshow above.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.