BY VITO PILIECI, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN, JUNE 29, 2010
A team of engineering students from the University of Ottawa is taking the term “fuel efficiency” to whole new heights.
The 10 students are fresh off a second-place finish at the SAE Supermileage Competition earlier this month, an international challenge to create new fuel-efficient automobiles.
The Ottawa team was able to show that their car was capable of travelling 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometres) per U.S. gallon (3.79 litres) of regular unleaded gasoline.
That’s equal to travelling from Ottawa to Winnipeg on a single gallon, with enough left over for another 300-kilometre trip.
The U of O team, however, says it could have done even better.
“We didn’t have time to tune the engine prior to the competition and when we finished we realized there was a major fuel leak,” said Lihang Nong, a recent University of Ottawa engineering graduate and one of the team leaders.
The leak cost them first place, according to Nong, which is why the team has their hearts set on breaking the world record for fuel efficiency in the coming weeks.
They already have plans to push the envelope further, claiming their car can top 3,000 miles (around 4,800 kilometres) on a single gallon of gas.
And in the coming weeks, the team will take its car to Capital City Speedway just west of Stittsville to try to break the world record for fuel efficiency by going more than 3,200 miles on a gallon of gas.
“Everything inside the engine uses existing technology,” said Nong. “The way we put it all together is what shows what is really possible.”
Their car, which resembles a tanning bed, weighs 54 kilograms, has a top speed of about 50 kilometres an hour and is slightly less than three metres long. There is room for one driver, lying on his back.
For the competition, held annually in Marshall, Michigan, teams are given a 38-cubic-centimetre Briggs and Stratton engine that they can modify.
The engine is about the size of those in a light-duty chainsaw and far smaller than one in a common gas-powered lawn mower.
Nong and his team decided the engine, which was capable of getting between 300 and 500 miles (482 kilometres to 643 kilometres) per gallon of gasoline, wasn’t good enough.
So they ripped it apart and recreated it, keeping only the engine block.
Pistons were made smaller and gears were changed in order to pump up the compression ratio and reduce fuel consumption.
“We designed a new engine into that one,” said Nong.
The project, which started as a way to get hands-on experience with a real-world problem and achieve a requirement for a mechanical engineering course, quickly became an obsession. The team spent 18 months perfecting its design before taking it to the Supermileage competition.
For the contest, each team is given a gallon of gasoline, and then must drive its vehicle around a track six times.
After that, the remaining gas in the car’s tank is measured and judges determine the fuel efficiency.
The University of Ottawa design was good enough to place second in a field of 33 competitors, some from as far away as Dubai. The winner was Université Laval, which has won for the past three years and has been entering the competition for five years.
They also plan to re-enter the Supermileage challenge in 2011. However, with six of 10 in the group having graduated this year, remaining members will be launching a recruitment campaign to try and rebuild the Supermileage team at the start of the next school year.
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