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

Published March 25, 2013

Toronto to Wawa — about 900 kilometres — on a 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, held in the Americas, Europe and Asia, 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 furthest 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 their perseverance and team spirit.

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A record was set last year when the Mater Dei High School team from Evansville, Indiana got the equivalent of 880 km/litre with their motorized prototype and these U of T engineering students have worked together the last 18 months planning to raise the fuel efficiency bar even higher with their entry – Journey 1.

Powered by a 1.3 hp, custom fuel-injected Honda leaf blower motor, with their own carbon fibre designed body on an aluminum tube frame and chassis that all weighs less than 45 kilos (100 lbs), Journey 1’s team members are confident their vehicle will easily maintain the minimum required competition speed of 24 km/h, and even hit 35.

It’s the first year Toronto’s U of T students have entered the contest, which Quebec’s Université Laval has won three times, and they are up to the challenge.

“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,” said Jonathan Hamway, one of the Supermileage team’s senior members, all of whom are working on internship jobs during a gap period between their third and fourth year of engineering studies.

“I was excited to join the design team because I’m really into cars,” said 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,” said 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 current internships). This project is on their own time, so they’ve all taken on the extra workload. These guys are busy,” Sinton added.

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, but building this car, being part of the team and seeing how committed we all are is really inspiring,” she said as the Supermileage team unveiled the nearly completed Journey 1 outside the U of T’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) in north Toronto on a frigid late March morning.

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

The eco-marathon course is nearly a kilometre (0.97 km) on city streets circling the 12-acre 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,” said Lorraine Mitchelmore, president and chair 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.

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