Engineers design fuel-efficient car

A team of mechanical engineering students is working to design and build a vehicle that could potentially run on 900 miles per gallon.
Brought together under the campus’ chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, or ASME, the engineering students are participating in the Shell Eco-marathon competition.
“The premise of the Shell Eco-marathon is to build a very fuel-efficient vehicle,” said mechanical engineering senior Clyde Dodson. “They have pretty rigorous specifications that we have to follow. So far, we’ve designed a smaller working model of our design.”
The team has designed most of the car, including a chassis, body and wheels. Some components are still left like steering columns, but the team aims to finish by the end of August.
The body and chassis will be constructed of carbon fiber. The carbon fiber design helps remove unnecessary weight from the vehicle to make it more aerodynamic, as well as give it a more aesthetically pleasing look, Dodson said.
Dodson, who is also the competition’s chair for ASME, said the engine and the tires must be given the most attention during the design process to make sure the vehicle runs as efficiently as possible.
Alumna Jessie Bogart was project manager last year when she worked on the project as a senior, and this year she is helping the team network and find funding for the project.
“We had no idea how big this project was going to be. No one knew anything about motors or differentials or how the suspension should work,” Bogart said. “We spent about six months just learning about cars.”
Bogart said projects like this help teach mechanical engineering students industry skills they don’t get in the classroom.
“In school, they’ll teach you how to read a textbook or how to solve cookie-cutter problems, but not in one class do they teach you about standard drill bit sizes,” she said. “So, you get into an industry like manufacturing and get completely thrown off. You can’t design something without designing it to a tool that already exists. It’s too expensive.”
In the actual competition, participants are given a liter of fuel and asked to race around a track until their tank empties or the clock runs out. Because of the engines, the fastest the vehicles can go is about 28 miles per hour.
But, they make up for it in their incredibly efficient motors. The model of last year’s winner in the European competition ran at 1,700 miles per gallon.
The team has until May 2015 to build its car and enter it in the marathon.

Correction: The acronym for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, or ASME, was incorrectly referred to as AME. The Mercury regrets this error.

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