Say Goodbye to Gas Stations: The Car of the Future Gets 5,000 MPG



  • International racing competition Shell Eco-marathon lets student engineers put energy efficiency innovations to the test
  • The result is a tremendous amount of data and insights into the future of fuel technology and transportation

Shell brings together student engineers to compete in the Woodstock for technology

As the old adage goes, the race is not always won by the swiftest. That certainly applies to the winners of Shell Eco-marathon.

Though not a race in the traditional sense, the 31-year-old event is definitely a competition. In this case, the winners are the ones who get to the end on the least amount of power or fuel. During the gasoline segment of the most recent competition in Europe, the TED team from France was able to make a liter of gas (roughly a quarter of a gallon) stretch some2,300 km(1,429 miles). That nets out to about 5,716 miles per gallon. The average MPG in the U.S. isa mere 25.5.

In other words, youre not likely to see these vehicles on the road soon, as Shell Eco-marathon is a platform for science and engineering students to explore and innovate technologies for the future of transportation.

Putting the competition together

Shell Eco-marathon traces its roots to 1939, and is the premiere competition for student engineering of energy efficiency, drawing representatives from over 500 universities in 51 countries. These days, there are three major competitions worldwideone in Asia, one in the Americas and one in Europe. The latter competition in London just wrapped in early July.

Entrants can choose from seven energies, including gas, ethanol, diesel, compressed natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric. Some 3,000 students participated in the London event, which Norman Koch, technical director for Shell Eco-marathon, calls a Woodstock for technology.

The competition works a bit like a Tour de France time trial. Each team starts by themselves and they have to do a trial of 16-17 km (about ten miles) on the track. The vehicles must travel at least 30 km/h to simulate real driving conditions. After the trial has completed, judges measure how much fuel or energy the cars have used.

HPE has been Shells Global Innovation Partner for the event for the past three years, offering integrated support for hardware, software and services. There are approximately 200 teams present at the competition and there are at least 120 inspection items on each vehicle, which means the event generates a massive amount of data. To compile the information, the inspectors use HP tablets, allowing for real-time access to the data. The HPE team is also able to provide the stats in real time to spectators using bespoke analytics, automotive software, Internet of Things (IoT) and apps.

This challenge speaks to the values of our company as well, says Wim Heuninck, Shell account general manager for HPE. Its about innovation and engineering and young talent.

The quest for efficiency

While this years showing was impressive, top teams in the past have gone up to 3,700 km on one liter of fuel. Thats like going from London to Helsinki and back on one liter of fuel, Koch says.

In contrast, the first winner in 1985 clocked about 680 km/l. That already shows what a leap automotive technology has taken, Koch said. Some of the technology has been on the material side. Initially the vehicles were little more than soapboxes, but now they use sleek carbon fibers to reduce drag and ceramic needle bearings to reduce the wheels rotating friction. If you give the wheel a good push with your hand, it can spin for up to 15 minutes, Koch explains. Other improvements have included onboard software that helps optimize the burn cycles of the engines.

Over time, Koch says, the event has contributed to the spread of engine start-stop technology, which has become mainstream as automakers attempt to meet government-imposed fuel standards. Of course, the event has also helped educate tens of thousands of young engineers who went on to work in other auto and energy firms as well.

Shells part in all this may seem counterintuitive. After all, the company makes its money selling fuel. Isnt promoting fuel efficiency bad for business?

It is the actual opposite that makes sense for us, Koch says. We have been in business for over 100 years, but whats crucial is how we stay in business for the next 100. We have to be able to position ourselves for the challenges of the future, which will demand more energy with a reduced CO2 footprint.

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