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U of T team ready to roll in Shell Eco-Marathon

The University of Toronto’s Supermileage team is ready to enter their prototype.

Published March 28, 2013

Toronto to Wawa — about 900 kilometres — on a single litre of gasoline may seem impossible.

Not to the University of Toronto’s Supermileage team, as engineering students aim to get just that kind of mileage at Shell’s Eco-Marathon Americas in Houston, Texas, April 5 to 7.

The seventh annual Eco-Marathon challenges university, college, and high school students around the globe to design, build and run their energy-efficient automotive inventions powered by various fuels and battery systems.

Going the farthest on the least amount of energy is the goal, and entrants are awarded in categories that include ingenuity in eco-design, safety and technical features, as well as for perseverance and team spirit.

A record was set last year when the Mater Dei High School team from Evansville, Ind., got the equivalent of 880 km per litre with their motorized prototype.

These U of T engineering students have been working together for the past 18 months to raise that fuel-efficiency bar even higher with their entry: Journey 1.

Powered by a customized 1.3 hp, fuel-injected Honda motor from a leaf blower, the vehicle has a carbon-fibre body on an aluminum tube frame and chassis — all of which weighs less than 45 kilos (100 lb.).

The team members are confident their vehicle will easily maintain the minimum competition speed of 24 km/h, and even hit 35.

This is the first year U of T students have entered the contest, which Quebec’s Université Laval has won three times.

“A lot of teams have a previous year’s car to work on, their benchmark, but we’ve had absolutely nothing to work off of. We had to start from scratch,” says Jonathan Hamway, one of the team’s senior members, all of whom are working on internship jobs during a gap between their third and fourth years of engineering studies.

“I was excited to join the design team because I’m really into cars,” says first-year student Tabish Gilani, one of the eight-member group’s youngest participants. “I’ve really learned a lot working in a team that has a common goal.”

Involving both younger and older students is the key to establishing a solid foundation.

“The best way to do that is by building with junior students who will keep the torch going,” says David Sinton, a U of T mechanical engineering professor and director of the school’s Institute for Sustainable Energy.

“This is a real opportunity to contribute to the technology. Not only are they getting leadership experience but they also interact with some very important companies (in their internships). This project is on their own time, so they’ve all taken on the extra workload. These guys are busy.”

The littlest “guy” on the design team is petite Monika Torio, who has the job of piloting Journey 1, due to her fuel-efficient, four-foot-something stature. And she’s pumped for the Texas track.

“At first, I was a little nervous about getting into something we’ve never done before,” she says. “But building this car, being part of the team, and seeing how committed we all are is really inspiring.”

Since the eco-marathon is all about minimizing weight, energy loss and fuel consumption, Monika fits the bill as the team’s driver.

The eco-marathon course travels just under a kilometre of city streets, circling the Discovery Green Park in downtown Houston. The teams from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S., must complete 10 laps.

“New records are being set each year and I’m rooting for a Canadian team to bring home the top prize again,” says Lorraine Mitchelmore, president of Shell Canada.

This year, a record number of seven Canadian university groups, from Halifax to Vancouver, will be competing against more than 140 teams from across the Americas. Similar events will take place in Europe and Asia.

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