eco marathon students with vehicle on stage

The Bendigo secondary school’s Team Incharge is competing in the Shell Eco-marathon mileage challenge in May in a three-wheeled battery-electric vehicle they have designed and built.

“You can’t underestimate your competition,” says Team Incharge’s manager and technical mentor, Robin Kirby, a former Australian motorsport champion, who now works at the school. “But I’d like to think a ‘top three’ finish is achievable.”

The team is making final preparations for its fourth tilt at the podium, backed by Shell Australia’s support.

They hope to build on their outstanding achievement from last year’s event, where the school team finished sixth out of 16 category entrants; the other 15 teams represented universities from around the Asia Pacific region.

Shell Eco-marathon is one of the world’s leading energy-efficiency competitions for students aiming to push the boundaries of what is technically possible.

It aims to inspire young people to become leading scientists and engineers of the future. Globally, the event draws more than 6000 students, mainly university level, in 700 teams from more than 50 countries.

While some energy challenges focus on a single technology, Shell Eco-marathon offers a choice of vehicle categories to compete for ultimate energy efficiency.

Shell Eco-marathon drivers hands with racing gloves and seat belt

To begin, students decide what class of car to design:

  • UrbanConcept: vehicles that have familiar road-car features (always four wheels); or
  • Prototype: ultra-efficient, lightweight vehicles (generally with three wheels).

They can then choose the propulsion system, determining the energy category:

  • Internal combustion engine (running on either petrol, diesel or ethanol);
  • Battery-electric; or
  • Hydrogen fuel cell.

The Shell Eco-marathon mileage challenge is not a race.

Rather, the idea is to cover a 12-kilometre course at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit in 25 minutes while using the least amount of energy.

Shell provides a meter mounted on the vehicle that measures the energy in joules used over the duration of the course.

The team that manages the distance, in the time, with the least energy used, wins.

It’s a fine balance: disqualification looms for teams that take longer than 25 minutes, but those who go too fast have probably used too much energy to be competitive against their rivals.

Students in school hall at Girton Grammar

“It’s a strategy situation,” Robin says.

“Last year we were 243 kilometres per kilowatt-hour. In petrol terms, that works out to about 2200 kilometres to the litre,” he says. That’s almost the equivalent distance of driving from Cairns to Sydney on one litre of fuel!

Seeking to better last year’s result, the team has evolved, as has their vehicle.

Team Incharge, drawn from Girton’s class years 10 to 12, includes a mix of electronics and electrical, mechanical and media roles.

“The students are learning about energy efficiency, weight reduction, composite materials and their uses, as well as electronics and coding,” Robin says.

For the first time, the team includes female students, who comprise almost half the team.

“This year there were a number of girls who put their hand up,” Robin says, pointing out the school’s emphasis on science in the curriculum. “The two drivers this year are both girls.”

“It’s an exciting step for us and speaks to inclusiveness and equal opportunity. And the girls are really excited, too, at the prospect of competing.”

eco marathon students with vehicle on stage

The three-wheeled carbon-fibre electric vehicle (EV) from the previous Shell Eco-marathon has been given a makeover: it has shed 5 kilograms and now tips the scales at a bantam weight of 33 kilograms. In comparison, the rules state the driver must weigh at least 50 kilograms.

The car’s drive system has been simplified. The rear wheel is propelled by two 180-watt 24-volt lithium batteries and a 150-watt electric motor, the equivalent of a fifth of one horsepower.

It has undergone aerodynamic tweaks to the finished surfaces of the body to smooth airflow, to make it as slippery as possible.

During the attempt, Team Incharge’s driver will steer from a lying down position in the front of the 2.7-metre-long EV.

The driver has a small Formula One style steering wheel but no accelerator pedal.

Instead, there is a launch button that sets the vehicle in motion.

The regulation of power from the motor is controlled by onboard software programmed by the students to keep the EV’s cruising speed between 24 and 26 kilometres per hour.

The clock is now ticking. The team is preparing to fly to Kuala Lumpur at the end of April to compete.

You can follow the progress of the team live at Shell Eco-Marathon, from 29 April to 2 May 2019, through @Shell_Australia Twitter & #ShellEcoMarathon

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