The Shell Eco-marathon in Rotterdam challenges student teams from around the world to design, build and test ultra energy-efficient vehicles. This year marked the event’s 30th edition.
Philippe Maindru, a teacher and thermodynamics expert in the French city of Nantes, is a veteran. “Back in 1985, there was just a dozen of us, and we all had a single source of energy: fuel,” he told euronews.
“Today, there are 200 participants competing in two major categories: prototypes and more ordinary urban-concept vehicles – cars running on ordinary fuel, diesel, bioethanol, but also on electricity and hydrogen. We have the best cars in the world when it comes to energy efficiency. What started out as a small event has become the largest energy efficiency race in the world,” Maindru enthused.
One prototype stands out: the Microjoule, put together by a group of students from Nantes.
“It has an internal combustion engine and runs on ordinary fuel,” explained one of the student, Richard. “The car weighs 35 kilos and is made entirely of carbon fibre. It offers very low rolling resistance and air resistance, and a very, very low drag coefficient. For example, when you spin the wheels, they will turn for several minutes without ever stopping.”
The Eco Marathon is, of course, a communication campaign. But it is more than that according to Shell’s Technical Director Gilles Vanier.
“Shell is a company that produces energy. But what will we be tomorrow? We have strategies, but that’s just what they are: strategies. What will the reality be? Our goal is to motivate students, to give them real projects to work on, and you can see that energy at work in the paddock,” said Vanier.
A new category was born two years ago called ‘Urban Concepts’. Though slightly less energy efficient, these cars are closer to what we may one day see driving on our roads.
Remco, a student from the Dutch city of Arnhem, displayed his team’s vehicle: “It’s road legal. That means that we can actually go out on the streets now without the cops on our backs. What is so special is that it’s a two-seater and to put it into perspective, in the back we also have room for a 12-beer crate.”
“We did this so we can show people who are interested in the Shell Eco Marathon and everything about efficient driving that hyper efficient driving is possible on the road today,” he added.
Over the years, the look of the vehicles has not evolved much. But the same can’t be said about what they are made or and powered by.
“We’ve moved on from fibreglass to carbon fibre, from traditional to ceramic bearings, we now have high-tech built-in electronics. And then there’s the whole vehicle strategy: the aerodynamics, the vehicle weighs less thanks to new, high-tech materials. Things have really evolved. Many of our competitors now print their own spare parts in the paddock using 3D printers, creating much lighter material,” said Shell’s Gilles Vanier.
The rules of the race are simple: competitors must use the least energy possible.
Microjoule is a record breaker, covering more than 3,300 kilometres with just one litre of fuel.
“Today, I have engine specialists working in research centres throughout Europe – students who come here see the prospects ahead, it makes them want to do the same and it boosts their self-confidence,” concludes Philippe Maindru.