Pushing the Boundaries in Car Design

Student Competition Profile: Shell Eco-Marathon

Student Competition Profile: Shell Eco-Marathon

Twenty MCCC students worked on project INNOVA—a hydrogen fuel cell-powered urban concept vehicle that placed second in its category at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2023 regional. Images courtesy of Jim Romeo and Shell Eco-marathon.

The Shell Eco-marathon dates back to 1939 when Bob Greenshields, Shell’s research director, made a friendly wager with his colleagues at U.S.-based Shell Oil Co. on who could travel farthest using the same amount of fuel. Greenshields achieved 49 MPG, setting a record and creating a legacy.

The Shell Eco-marathon officially launched in France about 50 years later. Twenty-five teams gathered to pit their wooden vehicles against one another in a format that laid the foundation for the competition we now know and love.

The impetus for the competition responds to the question: “How can we travel the farthest using as little energy as possible?”

Students are tasked with creating a vehicle that can test this theory and change how we see and understand mobility, students embark on a journey that will push their design, technology, and engineering skills to the limit both on and off the track.

Today, the Shell Eco-marathon is one of the world’s leading energy-efficiency engineering programs for students. The competition’s webpage states it “aims to push the boundaries of what is technically possible and inspire young people to become leading scientists and engineers of future energy solutions.”

The competition provides a platform for high school and university teams to explore every aspect of design and technology, using their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills to build their own ultra-energy-efficient cars, and then take them out on the track in competition.

The impetus of the Shell Eco-Marathon  is a response to the question: how we can travel the farthest using as little energy as possible?

In 2023, twenty Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) engineering students working on project INNOVA—a hydrogen fuel cell-powered urban concept vehicle—placed second in its category at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2023 regional competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in mid-April.

The students, led by Engineering Professor William Brownlowe and Technical Advisor Griff Francis, competed against teams from North and South America in the annual program for students. According to the Shell Eco-marathon site, “Looking ahead to the years leading up to Shell Eco-marathon’s 40th anniversary in 2025, as part of our three-year vision, Shell Eco-marathon aims to give past and present participating students – Changemakers of Tomorrow – a platform to tell their stories, and share their ideas, dreams, and ambitions for the future.”

Each year over 5,000 students from over 52 countries participate in Shell Eco-marathon and year on year the legacy is clear to see. Each year the teams, in the true spirit of Shell Eco-marathon are driven to compete in the name of perseverance, innovation and collaboration.

We spoke to Professor Brownlowe to learn about their effort in this competition. Here’s how our conversation went.

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the Shell Eco-marathon competition, how it came to be, and the intent of the program? Who will be participating or who has participated? How many participants have you had or are you expecting? Any demographics of participants?

Professor Brownlowe: MCCC’s engineering students created a hydrogen fuel cell-powered urban concept vehicle and placed second in its category at the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2023 regional competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, April 12-16, 2023. They competed against teams from colleges from North and South America in Shell’s annual “global academic program that challenges talented students to design and build cars, considering technical and behavioral factors to achieve game-changing energy efficiency results.”

After a rigorous inspection, the Innova Car was tasked with completing four laps around the 2.4-mile looped inner track of the motor speedway in less than 35 minutes. The goal was to determine which car had the best fuel economy, but cars also needed to maintain a minimum speed. The Innova car was able to complete the course with 30 seconds to spare.

The students received sponsorship from Dorman Products, a [U.S.-based] manufacturer of aftermarket automotive products. Earlier this year, three representatives from Dorman Products—Christine Mobley, director of talent development; Celina McCabe, manager of campus recruitment programs and onboarding; and Kerrie Foye, learning and development coordinator—visited MCCC to meet with the INNOVA team.

DE: Can you tell us about MCCC’s designs that are part of the event and how they came to be?

Brownlowe: Engineering students have been working on INNOVA for several years, with improved iterations each year based on what they learn. New engineering students design and build the vehicle each year and even use 3D printing to create parts. This is a unique endeavor for a community college; our team competes against students from four-year institutions. DE

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About the Author

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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