EcoCar team unveils new car, launches crowdfunding campaign

Donations will give student group an enduring legacy of innovation.


The University of Alberta EcoCar Team unveiled its new zero-emissions car, launched a crowdfunding campaign, and received surprise support from Faculty of Engineering alumni Tuesday.

The team is entering its new hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle, dubbed Alice, in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas in Detroit April 21–24. The team has always finished in first or second place in the international competition; this year, a spot in the top two qualifies the team for the Shell Eco-marathon London race in the U.K. in July.

‘We need creative thinkers’

Speaking at the unveiling of the U of A EcoCar Team’s newly built vehicle, mechanical engineering chair Brian Fleck outlined the history of the automobile and its impact on the environment. The earliest cars were touted as a solution to manure littering streets by animal-drawn carts and carriages. Automobiles evolved into expressions of personal identity and independence, at the expense of polluting the air we breathe.

By giving students the opportunity to take on meaningful design challenges like the EcoCar, the university empowers them to solve real-world problems, he said.

“Projects like this add an extra dimension to undergraduate education, and this project is exciting because it reflects our changing society and the very values we see changing today,” said Fleck, adding that members of the team are capable of developing technology “to make our lives better.”

Government of Alberta climate change specialist Shan Plether also spoke at the unveiling ceremony, outlining rapid change underway in the wake of Canada’s commitments at the Conference of the Parties in Paris, through agreements with the United States to drastically cut methane emissions and in Alberta’s own plans to replace coal-powered electrical generation with a mix of natural gas and renewable energy. All of these changes, she said, “are opportunities for innovation.”

And in addition to getting a great engineering education, students spending their time designing and building a zero-emission car, she added, are part of the solution.

“We need creative thinkers like you.”

With a new chassis, aerodynamic shell, wheels and electronic controls, Alice is the third iteration of hydrogen fuel cell cars designed and built by U of A engineering students. Team leader Nik Viktorov, a third-year chemical engineering co-op student, says the single-seat car is the result of hard work by talented students.

“I’m incredibly lucky to be here with such a great team,” he told an audience of about 100 assembled for the vehicle’s official unveiling. He noted that the team includes students in various engineering disciplines as well as students from the Faculty of Arts and the Alberta School of Business.

Another key to the team’s success is mentorship, with senior students helping new members.

“Team members have always been mentored, and that’s how we’re able to make better and better and better cars through the years,” he said.

To ensure the team’s longevity, the group has started a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of raising $10,000. During the unveiling ceremony, the team learned that engineering alumni, through the Spirit of George Ford Endowment Fund, will match donations to the team dollar-for-dollar up to $5,000.

Many of the students had pulled an all-nighter Monday, putting finishing touches on Alice overnight to have the car ready for the unveiling. They then spent most of the day outdoors in and fresh-fallen snow and biting wind, as part of a national competition to see which Canadian eco-car team could collect the most signatures on the day of their car’s unveiling. The winner will receive funding from Shell to have their car transported to the U.S. competition.

After months of hard work, Viktorov and his teammates were moved by the generosity of engineering alumni behind the gift.

“It helps us to know that there for sure will be teams after us, who will learn from our mistakes and make better cars than we can,” Viktorov said.

To support the team, visit the EcoCar crowdsourcing campaign website.