EcoMarathon team overcomes adversity, tests fuel efficiency

Richard Appel
Margaret Trautner steers the car on the track. Using an electric starter, the team doubled their mileage from last year.

Maggie Ballard, Staff Writer

Five students traveled to Detroit on Thursday, April 21, to compete at Shell Eco-Marathon Americas, a competition that challenges young engineers to design and test the most energy-efficient vehicles. Besides high school students, competitors from universities such as Rice and Georgia Institute of Technology flocked to the Motor City.

Upon arriving, the teammates discovered that the windshield of their car was shattered by a forklift during transportation. They fixed their vehicle on Thursday afternoon by finding spare Lexan glass and borrowing materials from a Puerto Rican team.

“Everything seemed to be completely broken. We didn’t know if we would be able to pull it together in time, but we just did what we could and ended up fixing it,” junior Marisa Murillo said.

The team competed in the prototype gasoline category, in which each car must travel six miles under 24 minutes using the least amount of fuel.

 

(Richard Appel)

St. John’s placed 25th out of 45 teams in its category. Most of the teams could not race because they failed inspection or could not get their cars to work. St. John’s doubled their mileage from 92.7 miles per gallon last year to 203 miles per gallon this year.

“This past year we learned that we should have an electric starter so we could turn the vehicle off and on when we wanted to. We made changes to decrease our energy losses,” junior Austin Zhang said.

 EcoMarathon gave the team more engineering experience than would a conventional classroom.

“So much of what kids learn in classrooms is theoretical but not practical,” team sponsor Doug Elliott said. “This group allows them to build something that has to function. It’s hands-on engineering.”