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Technology

Shell Eco-Marathon: Meet the 1,000-MPG Cars of the Future

DiscoblogBy Andrew MosemanMarch 29, 2010 11:45 PM

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High school and college engineers can do a lot with a lawn trimmer engine, bicycle wheels and a few wires—like build prototype cars that get in the thousands of miles per gallon. Here we bring you the best images from this weekend's Shell Eco-marathon Americas competition.

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A Powerful Prototype

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All weekend long, prototype cars built by students around the country and shipped down to Texas battled it out. They ran 10-lap races around the 0.6 course of city streets in downtown Houston, striving to be top dog in miles per gallon. The cars in the prototype division, like this one from Loyola-Marymount University, didn't have many of the luxuries of the normal cars driving by and wondering what was going on. But those normal cars also don't run at more than 1,000 miles per gallon, as many racers achieved. The winning team in the prototype category, from Universite Laval in Canada, achieved nearly 2,500 MPG. (See a full list of winners here

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Trouble on the Track

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Most teams didn't exceed 20 or 25 miles per hour as they cruised around the track trying to save fuel, but negotiating the course in a homemade car still isn't easy. Here the track crew pulls out Grand Rapids High School from Minnesota, one of many cars to stall out, have disconnected wires, or scrape bottom on a speed bump.

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Chic Wheels for the Big City

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Despite carrying only a 1.1 horsepower engine, "Concept Zero" by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University can still motor around the track. The carbon-fiber car was in the "urban concept division," in which vehicles had to have four wheels, lights, and generally resemble a typical, useable car. NYU's car recorded a best run of 144 MPG.

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Running on Sun Rays

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Most of the 50 cars in the field ran on conventional gas. But Purdue University brought a solar car called "Pulsar," which dominated the weekend. Pulsar ran the course with the equivalent of more than 4,500 MPG (the scorers had to compare their energy use to the amount of energy in a gallon of gas, and then do a little math). Driving in sunny Houston certainly didn't hurt.

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The Team Behind the Machine

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Every driver needs a pit crew to cheer them on, remind them how many laps remain, and advise them whether they need to speed up to make sure they finish the race in the time limit (about 25 minutes) or slow down to conserve gas and improve mileage. Here, the green markerboard message by Penn State's John Bearer informs the driver that there are nine laps down, one to go (and also declares his love of nachos).

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A Finicky Vehicle

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Between a sheared driveshaft, electrical problems, and 11th hour calls to Europe for help repairing the hydrogen fuel cell, the University of Missouri crew says they barely made it to Houston. Despite continual repairs to their urban concept car (the inside of which is seen here mid-dismantling) it would only run half the 10 laps before breaking down, and they couldn't get a score on the board. The Tigers weren't too disappointed, though, pledging to come back with a better-tested car and dominate next year.

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Measuring Up

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That small vial is all the fuel the cars receive to make their 10-lap runs. Here, Shell's Mike Evans measures the fuel used by "Iron Maiden," the diesel car built by the all-girls team of Granite Falls High School in Washington state. The "shop girls" scored 470 MPG on their best run over the weekend.

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Hitting the Streets

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While the students poured innumerable hours into building these cars, much of their MPG performance came down to how well they learned the track. And it wasn't easy—most test runs the drivers had performed were indoors on test tracks. But this year the competition his the sometimes-bumpy streets of downtown Houston. Learning when to hit the gas, when to coast, and how to avoid the other drivers who might cut off your preferred route helped the teams up their scores as they completed multiple runs.

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How to Make Mallory Shine

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Every little scrap of efficiency helps, so here the University of Arizona team breaks out the dust cloths to clean the panels on its car, "Mallory," the only solar-powered vehicle in the urban concept division.

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Returning Champions

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Mater Dei High School is an Eco-marathon dynasty, and the students took home another top prize in 2010. The Evansville, Indiana school won the prototype competition in 2008 with 2,843 MPG, and last year's urban concept competition with 433 MPG. This year they repeated as urban concept champions, with this car, "George," running at 437 MPG.

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Related Content: Discoblog: Shell Eco-Marathon: That's All, Folks

Discoblog: Shell Eco-Marathon: How to Drive the Car of the Future

Discoblog: Shell Eco-Marathon: All the Aerodynamics You Can Muster, Mister

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