LAWRENCE — Highlighted by a run of nearly 100 miles per gallon of fuel efficiency, a team from the University of Kansas School of Engineering recently participated in a competition that pushes the envelope of fuel economy and vehicle innovation.
For the first time in school history, KU took part in the Shell-Eco marathon – Americas, which took place last month in Houston. The vehicle, which is the size of a go-kart and has a top speed of about 30 miles per hour, was designed by members of the KU EcoHawks, a student research program in the engineering school that focuses on developing innovative sustainable energy solutions for transportation and other areas of energy infrastructure. Chris Depcik, associate professor of mechanical engineering, serves as the EcoHawks adviser.
“The idea behind the competition is to inspire innovation and see what new ideas people come up with,” said Alex Stelljes, a 2014 graduate in mechanical engineering from Richardson, Texas. “It’s about experimenting with fuel economy and looking for ways to scale-up your design to broaden the potential benefits.”
About 120 teams from around the world compete, but most are in the Prototype Division, which is a much smaller vehicle that is a tight fit for one person. KU was one of about 40 teams to design a slightly larger vehicle for the Urban Concept Division, and it was one of only three teams to power the vehicle with Gas-to-Liquid (GTL) fuel, utilizing natural gas.
Teams were required to pass a variety of inspections and present detailed reports on their designs. They had to attempt completion of 10 laps (a total of six miles) on a track around a 12-acre public park, Discovery Green, in downtown Houston. The idea is to see which team could travel the farthest using the least amount of energy. KU maxed out at 94 miles per gallon.
“We were really pleased with our fuel economy and feel good about our overall performance,” said Cory Ingenthron, a 2014 graduate in mechanical engineering from Topeka. “We also did a great job keeping a realistic cost structure in mind with the car. Our $6,000 budget was much lower than most other teams, and that wowed a lot of people.”
KU did not record an official final score because its vehicle frame was a few inches too wide, but the EcoHawks were one of only a handful of teams from the Urban Concept Division that delivered a functioning vehicle to run on the track. The team members plan to pass along what they’ve learned to next year’s team and make the competition an EcoHawks tradition.
Team members: Tyler Buffkin, De Soto; William Hamilton, Wichita; Cory Ingenthron, Topeka; Jordan Miller, Norman, Oklahoma; Robert Moreno, El Paso, Texas, and Alex Stelljes, Richardson, Texas.