The fuel-efficient Odyssey

(Edmonton) A group of U of A engineering students has designed and built a zero-emission car—and now they’re off to an international competition in Houston, Texas.

Running March 30–April 1, the Shell Eco-marathon competition challenges teams is to design and build the most fuel-efficient vehicle.

The zero-emission U of A vehicle, which was designed and built by students, runs on a hydrogen fuel cell. The team is competing in the urban concept division. Its vehicle needs to meet regulations designed to make the vehicle more conventional and similar to the cars we drive today.

“We’re probably the only team there that has suspension, so that makes our car heavier but we wanted to build a car that is closer to what people drive every day,” said Matthew Sponiar, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student who spearheaded the group.

Marc Secanell, a mechanical engineering professor who advises the students and whose research focuses on fuel cell technology, says the group has done impressive work. Sponiar approached Secanell and design professor Curt Stout with an idea to form the group in 2010. Sponiar and a small group of fellow students assembled a team that designed and built the car, went through the administrative processes involved in setting up an official U of A group, raised funds and secured sponsorships.

“It’s pretty amazing that they have started from scratch to create a team and an organizational structure, which is important, and designed and built a car,” he said. “They are applying everything we have taught them but they are also going beyond that, into things you might not see until you’re in graduate studies.”

Sahil Shah, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and co-founder of the group, says that taking part in a project like the EcoCar requires some sacrifice—rather than studying, students are spending time working on an engineering challenge.

In recent weeks team members have been spending virtually all of their evenings and weekends finishing the car.

“I would say the last month has been the most stressful,” he said. As a student in the faculty’s co-op program, Shah is currently on a work placement, and makes time after work to return to campus and work on the car.

“Engineering is all about the application of science and knowledge and this is a perfect opportunity to practice our engineering skills,” he said. “It’s great that we are able to apply what we have learned in class to a project you are passionate about.”

The students will be posting blogs on the Faculty of Engineering website about their adventures
The vehicle itself weighs 300 lbs., is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell and can travel at speeds of 40–50 km/h.
The EcoCar Team has also attended numerous conferences and events to engage with and educate the public on sustainable energy and transportation solutions. Education and outreach are central to what the EcoCar team does—it is using the vehicle to showcase innovative technology and educate the public about sustainability.