Racing with Cougar Pride

Three teams from UH competed in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas, April 5-7 on the streets of Downtown Houston. The global program tasks students to design, build, and test the most energy-efficient vehicles, and whichever team creates the car that goes the farthest distance using the least amount of energy wins the weekend-long competition. This year's goal was to challenge last year's 2,188 miles per gallon accomplishment.

Two of the competing UH teams were comprised of College of Technology seniors who utilized the project to fulfill requirements for their senior mechanical engineering technology capstone course. They designed their vehicles for the Shell Eco-marathon's Urban Concept category at the Northwest Campus, finishing them in the COT machine shop at the UH main campus. One of the vehicles is powered by a fuel cell (hydrogen), while the other is powered by bio-diesel. The other team, comprised of juniors, built their car as an extracurricular activity and entered their vehicle in the prototype class.

Mechanical engineering technology senior Quan Ta, leader for team Gladius, created a biodiesel-powered vehicle nearly the size of the original Mini Cooper for the Urban Concept category.

Leading the Daedalus team, mechanical engineering technology senior Michael Aselin said he worked for 11 months on the team's hydrogen-fueled cell car.

"We had a good, robust design," Aselin said. "Our teamwork and communication skills proved to be our strongest assets."

From design to finance, Shell Eco-marathon students learn to manage a project from start to finish while continuing to build their skills in science, technology, mathematics and business.

"This competition has challenged me as a mechanical engineering technology student in both design and fabrication," Ta said. "Logistics with suppliers and outside services have to be well maintained to get products on time — this is something you can't teach in the average classroom."

Team Daedalus and Team Gladius both passed technical and safety inspections with excellence - a major accomplishment since 20% of the cars fail and are not allowed to race. Both teams encountered mechanical problems that caused them to pull out of the race. However, team members' display of Cougar Pride shone brightly at the event.

"Not winning this year is a little disappointing, but it was an amazing learning experience and we had an opportunity to showcase our work to all of Houston and talk about our education at UH," said Aselin.

"Several people have asked to showcase our cars at various events like Earth Day. It's kind of surreal to have people want to stand by and get pictures with something you designed and built," he reflected.

"The Eco-marathon was a wonderful race to enter where teams from across the Americas come to compete," Aselin said. "Yet, we helped each other to deal with issues in an amazingly friendly environment. So, not only did we have an opportunity to showcase our designs, we met some wonderful people."