Back in 1939 a bet between two Shell scientists regarding who could build a vehicle to carry them the furthest on a set amount of fuel turned into an annual event which has grown in popularity ever since.
Today, the Shell Eco-marathon follows the same parameters, using a mix of ingenuity, imagination, and skill, high schools and universities from around the world compete to discover who can build the most fuel efficient car. Teams use an array of fuels to try and determine the most energy dense mixes, some which could possibly be used in vehicles or machines of the future.
Events now take place in Kuala Lumpur (Asia), The Netherlands (Europe), and Houston (the Americas), as the race has become a truly global event. There are two categories in each competition: prototype, and urban concept. (Related article: Nevada Renewable Energy – Good or Bad?)
Canada has a fearsome reputation in the Huston-based event, with the Laval University of Quebec having won the prototype category for four of the previous five years. They managed to retain their title this year, powering their car for 3,587 miles on a single gallon of gasoline (5,773 kilometres on 3.8 litres).
Participation in the event is not cheap, with most teams spending between $13,000 and $30,000 on their cars; and that is just the materials: carbon fibre, gears, suspensions, tyres, chassis, nuts and bolts. The hundreds of hours of design and labour that are required to build a successful vehicle are voluntary.