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Students Compete For Best Gas Mileage With Home-Built Cars

Every year around this time, the streets around Discovery Green turn into a race track and the George R. Brown Convention Center into a giant pit stop. As part of the Shell Eco Marathon, hundreds of student-built cars compete for the highest gas mileage.



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One-hundred-ten mostly high school and college teams from north and South America are participating in this year’s eco marathon. It’s the fourth straight year that the event takes place in Houston.

Norman Koch is the technology manager for the Shell Eco Marathon globally.

“The overall goal of the Shell Eco Marathon is to build a vehicle and to complete a set distance on a track with the least amount of fuel.”

Make that fuel or battery power. The competition has seven different categories, including diesel, battery electric and hydrogen. Then there are two different kinds of vehicle entries — prototype and urban concept.

“The Urban Concept category requires that the students build a car that is in look and appearance similar to road-going vehicles that you and I know from the street today.”

Prototypes can be built in whichever way that makes them most energy-efficient.

One such car was built by Houston’s St. John’s high school team.

“This year it’s an aluminum frame, which is a piece of sheet metal is what we’ve started with and we kind of folded it in the shape of our current frame. We have a foam and plastic shell and then we have solar panels on the top.”

That’s Jake Nyquist, who first organized a St. John’s team after seeing the contest downtown and deciding he wanted to build his own car. This is the second year that he’s participating.

Not surprisingly, Jake and his teammates are all math and science buffs. So what do they want to do after high school?

“I probably want to go into computer science.”

 “Yeah, I was thinking about computer science or math probably.”

 “Mechanical or petroleum engineering.”

That was Philip Taffet, Deven Lahoti and Michael Timte. The whole team has 12 members from 10th through 12th grade.

Starting today, their car will drive around Discovery Green and the guys hope to reach around 100 miles per kilowatt-hour.

As a comparison, consumption for the fully electric Nissan Leaf is about three miles per kilowatt-hour.

Admittedly, the Leaf drives a little faster than the St. John’s prototype, which reaches around 20 miles per hour. And it’s a bit more comfortable.