With rising gasoline prices and carbon emissions, the future of the automotive industry is geared towards sustainability as cars are being developed with alternative energy sources and materials. Aimed at increasing energy efficiency and reducing emissions, we witness hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles being introduced into our lives.
One future mobility initiative for schools is the Shell Eco-Marathon (SEM), a worldwide challenge where student engineers and scientists aged 16 to 25 design, build and test ultra energy-efficient vehicles. With three events each year — one in America, one in Europe and one in Asia — the winning vehicle is the one which goes the farthest with the least amount of energy, on one litre of fuel to be exact.
From designing to financing the vehicles, participating teams have to manage the entire project with skills in science, technology, mathematics, and business. Created by global petroleum giant Shell, the objective is to encourage youths to address the energy challenge by creating innovative and smarter mobility solutions.
For 2012, SEM Asia will see more than 130 teams from 18 countries in Asia and the Middle East participating in the challenge from 4 to 7 July 2012 at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. New entries this year come from Hong Kong, Korea, Lebanon, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates.
Representing Singapore are eight teams from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University of Singapore (NTU), Institute of Technical Education College West and new entrant Singapore Polytechnic.
At the official send-off event on Friday, all eight teams shared their aspirations and showcased their innovations of new and improvised vehicles running on various energy sources such as diesel, hydrogen, batteries, plug-in electricity and solar.
There are two competition classes — Prototype or UrbanConcept.The Prototype category is for futuristic prototypes where vehicles are streamlined to maximise fuel efficiency, while the UrbanConcept category is for road-going fuel-efficient vehicles catered to meet the real life needs of drivers today.
These two main categories are then further sub-categorised into Electric Mobility (E-mobility) and Internal Combustion. E-mobility compromises of hydrogen, solar and 'plug-in' electricity, while Internal Combustion involves the use of gasoline, diesel, gas to liquids and FAME.
The overall SEM Asia record stands at an astounding 2,213 kilometre per litre set by Dhurakij Pundit University of Thailand for their prototype which ran on ethanol.
Five of the eight Singapore teams will be competing in the Prototype class, one of which is NTU's diesel-powered Batmobile-inspired Nanyang Venture IV. First taking part in the SEM in Germany in 2009, this year is the third time NTU is competing in SEM Asia since the annual event was launched in 2010. NTU achieved a great result of two awards last year — the most energy efficient in the diesel fuel category with 564 kilometres per litre and first prize for safety, an off-track award for the team with the most safety-oriented vehicle.
Aiming to better last year's results and break the 1,000 kilometres per litre mark, the nine-person NTU Venture IV team is back in the competition with some fresh faces, a new body shell and new race strategy.
The lightweight Nanyang Venture IV tips the scales at only 68kg, largely due to its carbon fibre reinforced plastic body shell. Energy efficiency of the car is attained with things like low rolling friction tyres and the teardrop body style for lowest air drag profile. Design of the car was further optimised with numerous simulated computational fluid dynamic (CFD) testing.
Modifying its mechanical and electrical systems to cater for greater fuel efficiency, the team designed and developed a dynamometer to formulate a more efficient 2012 version of the car. The dynamometer is used as a test bed for Digital Fuel Injection (DFI) system, Electronic Control System (ECS) for engine, Single Drive Transmission (SDT) system, Track Conditions Simulation (TCS) system and many others.
Other improvements include the replacement of bearings with full sleeve ceramic bearings manufactured with the use of new lightning bearing technology, wheel covers to prevent unnecessary turbulence within the spokes of the rotating wheels and wind tunnel testing of the model car to obtain a realistic value for the drag coefficient in order to compute aerodynamic losses of the car.
In addition, the indirect chain driven transmission was replaced with direct belt driven to reduce any transmission energy losses and the rear hub was completely redesigned to cater for this change.
The people behind the Nanyang Venture IV this year are mechanical engineering students Benjamin Ng, Ricky Wijaya, Kuganeshan Ganesamoorthy, Lim Weison, Lee Wei Xun Enrique, Tinagaran Puvanasan, Muhammad Subhan Bin Muhammad, Ashish Valiya Veetil Anilan and aerospace engineering student Sheral Crescent Tissera.
Find out their thoughts and feelings:
Question: Why did you choose to participate in SEM Asia?
Ricky: I participated in SEM Asia because it gives me opportunities to build an eco-car and I can expand my knowledge on improving fuel efficiency. Moreover, building an eco-car with higher fuel efficiency is quite necessary nowadays to overcome the energy crisis.
Tinagaran: Taking part in an automotive event is something I've dreamt about since young and the SEM Asia definitely serves as stepping stone for a future career in the automotive industry. The whole idea of building a car from a sketch on a paper to an actual working vehicle fills me with satisfaction and excitement unlike other projects I've been involved in. It is the sheer passion for cars that has fuelled my desire to participate in SEM Asia again and again, for the third year since my first participation in 2010.
Question: How does participation in SEM Asia benefit you as an engineering student?
Weison: It is a valuable platform for me to put the theoretical knowledge learnt in school into practice and further my interest in automobile design. Serving as a platform to pit my wits against the best in the region's engineering field, competing with and learning from the best in Asia gives good exposure and experience, teaching me to be independent and to take initiative towards my own learning. The rules for SEM Asia are not as restrictive and it allows us to exercise our creativity to create innovative solutions in our quest for more energy efficient automobiles.
Question: What improvements have been made to the NTU Venture IV?
Subhan: I will be the driver of the Nanyang Venture IV again this year. I was part of the initial team that conceptualised and constructed the Venture IV from scratch last year. For this year, I conceptualised and designed the electronic control system that essentially makes the car drive-by-wire with an incorporated 'launch control' to make the car accelerate at the most fuel efficient rate. I also redesigned most of the control mechanism and also the steering wheel which now incorporates an LCD display to feedback to the driver the speed of the vehicle as well as other parameters.
Question: What do you think cars of the future will be like?
Kuganeshan: SEM is definitely at the forefront of paving a way for green cars of tomorrow. It provides a great avenue for engineering innovation for the world of tomorrow. Cars of the future would definitely be in the direction of the cars that are featured in SEM.
Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.