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Sunday, June 4, 2023


Eco-marthon takes going green to next level

Compact cars promote environmental awareness by promoting better fuel efficiency at the Shell Eco-marathon. | Christina Yanascavage/The Daily Cougar

Cars driving thousands of miles per gallon were a local highlight this weekend.

Spectators could see over 42 teams driving 48 eco-efficient prototype and urban concept cars on a street course in downtown Houston.  Gasoline, hydrogen and solar were some of the energies used to power the vehicles in the Eco-marathon.

Two UH teams competed in the prototype category.  Weight and aerodynamics help these cars in their quest for efficiency.  Urban concept cars are created to simulate actual car and road conditions.  An urban concept car might have room for two passengers while a prototype usually has one passenger to keep the vehicle lightweight.

“It was very exciting and intense… both physically and mentally,” mechanical engineer technology senior Ceasar Nunez said after driving a second run Saturday.  “I had a lot of support from these guys… It’s a team effort.”

The team said they worked hard to get to this point.  “The project started in August when it was just a drawing on a piece of paper…,”Nunez said.

Nunez has become a role model for younger students and children.  Some asked him for tips to get into college.  Others ask how to get where he is today.  The team recently had the opportunity to meet with the Mayor.

“We have to look good.” Nunez said.  “It’s UH… It’s Houston.”

The competition moved to Houston from California this year.  The change meant teams were forced to cope with real road conditions compared to a racetrack environment.

The teams welcomed the challenge with strategies to improve.

“Is there anything we can do better with this run…” mechanical engineer technology senior Stephen Zamora said.

Decreasing fuel usage, checking for leaks, and reducing friction were among the improvements attempted.  Human factors related to operating the car helped improve efficiency as well.

UH Alumni and students cheered on the third generation of UH cars.

“I’m proud of these guys…” engineering technology senior Michael Jasch said.  “I was the first one to do this, we had three people in 2008… I wasn’t expecting this much progression.”

“They are learning from their mistakes,” entrepreneurship senior Aarron Light said.

UH Team Element 1 was nearly forced out of the race due to a faulty hydrogen cell.

“We converted from a hydrogen fuel cell to combustion gasoline overnight,” mechanical engineer technology senior Adam Bordelon said.  “It was probably a manufacturing problem.”

“The fact that we built it in a day… I think we did well,” mechanical engineering technology senior David Bockoven said.  “The team had to decide, ‘do we want to quit or do we want to compete.’”

The team hopes to replace the hydrogen fuel cell to test its efficiency in the future.

An ethanol-based car was introduced to the competition for the first time by Durand High School in Durand, Wis.

“We have an ethanol plant in Wisconsin,” instructor Bill Rieger said as he described the project.  The team discussed costs and by-product smells, calling ethanol a “clean burning alternative.”  Reusing parts helped reduce costs.

A solar powered prototype, driving over 4,000 mpg, won most efficient overall and the inaugural people’s choice award.

Next year’s goal is to have a solar urban concept car “highway certified- to drive highway speeds,” Purdue University team leader Ted Pesyna said.

Side doors and overall appearance are some factors to consider in an urban concept car Pesyna explained.  He hopes others will agree.

An all girls team was on the track for the first time this year.  Safety and Bling awards were earned by the group from Granite Falls High School, Granite Falls, Wash.

Spectators can look forward to the innovations on Houston streets again spring 2011.

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