Imagine making the 2,710-mile trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles using just one gallon of gas.
You might look silly doing it, but students from Université Laval, in Quebec, have theoretically made that outlandish trip possible with their prototype gasoline-powered car that gets 2,713.1 miles per gallon.
The Laval team took home the big prize at this year’s Shell Eco-marathon Americas, a competition in which university students design a prototype car using various fuels, from gasoline to hydrogen fuel cells, in an attempt to maximise efficiency on a Detroit, Michigan test track.
Laval’s win follows a victory in the 2016 competition in which it built a car that managed to achieve a fuel efficiency of 2,585 mpg. The year before, University of Toronto students took the top spot with a mind-boggling 3,421 mpg. This year’s win marks the school’s fourth since the competition began 11 years ago.
More than 1,200 students comprising 115 teams participated in the competition. The students hailed from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, and the US.
The Laval team submitted a gasoline-powered car for the Prototype category, which gave designers the most leeway in how they achieved fuel efficiency. The other category was UrbanConcept, which added the constraint that each car must be “roadworthy” and meet the needs of real drivers (Laval’s vehicle is not exactly meant for everyday driving).
Each category also had subcategories for different fuel types: gasoline, diesel, electric, hydrogen fuel cell, and liquid fuel made from natural gas or ethanol.
Laval’s car was so successful because it was lightweight, aerodynamic, and powerful for its size. The car only had two horsepower, most of which got the car up to speed so it could coast with the engine off. Members of the team have said in past years the driver’s strategy is to reach roughly 20 mph and then drop the speed to around 9 mph before restarting the engine.
To test the cars, each team had to drive 10 laps, or six miles. They also had to maintain an average speed of 15 miles per hour — not exactly highway speeds if you’re planning on making that trip to LA anytime soon.
Other awards were given out for safety, technical innovation, and perseverance, the last of which was awarded to the team from Montgomery Community College, in Pennsylvania. The team’s vehicle broke down repeatedly, requiring hours of maintenance, but ultimately the members managed to produce a working vehicle on short notice.
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