EcoCar Team Scrambles into Second Place

Eco Car he U of A EcoCar team battled past technical challenges to take a second-place finish at its first-ever competition, the Shell Eco-Marathon, in Houston, Texas.
Edmonton—A team of students that designed and build a zero-emission car drove to second place at an international competition in the U.S.

The EcoCar team took part in the hydrogen car Urban Concept category of the Shell Eco-Marathon in Houston Texas, finishing second to the University of Illinois in a close competition. Teams were judged on energy use over a set course.

“We were extremely happy with the way things turned out because we were on our absolute last run,” said team leader Matthew Sponiar. “Seeing how close it was, we really felt good because only three of seven hydrogen-car teams actually got runs in.”

The competition hosted 115 teams from universities and high schools from Canada, the U.S., Brazil and Mexico. The U of A Faculty of Engineering team was up against seven teams in the Urban Concept category, in which teams design, build and drive hydrogen-fuel cell powered cars designed to resemble cars used in day-to-day life.

The team had a string of bad luck in the competition’s first few days, working around the clock to get their vehicle to pass a pre-race inspection. Problems powering the vehicle and eliminating hydrogen leaks, and issues with the car’s frame nearly prevented the team from successfully completing a run of the entire course.

It wasn’t until its final chance that the team completed the entire race course.

“Pretty much everything that could happen to a hydrogen team happened,” said Sponiar, a third-year mechanical engineering (co-op) student. “But all of the teams were helping each other out—we were all in it together.”

While team members were pulling all-night work sessions prior to leaving for the competition, the level of effort didn’t decrease once they arrived in Houston.

“When you’re at a competition, you are going to do absolutely anything and everything to get a successful run in. If there is a point where you don’t give up it is definitely at competition—you feed off the energy there. No one was sleeping very much.”

On its successful run, the team’s vehicle achieved 16 miles per kilowatt hour (this is the energy equivalent to 60 miles/gallon or 3.9L/100km). First-place University of Illinois beat the U of A team by just 1.6 miles/kWh.

The EcoCar team will now consider its options for the coming year. It might return to the Shell event or take part in a 3,000-mile race in Australia—or both.
“We need to figure out on a student perspective which one we want to target and then financially figure out how to approach that end of things,” Sponiar said.