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Students going for the green mile

April 15, 2009 4:08:39 PM PDT
When you're shopping for a new car, fuel mileage is a big selling point with both economic and environmental benefits. Three University of Houston students are on their way to the Shell Eco-marathon in California with a design they've spent a lot of time on.

UH seniors James Smith, Brandon Marbach and Avanthi Kodar are a little blurry eyed but they're in the home stretch. The three mechanical engineering technology students have logged more than a 1,000 hours designing and building their entry for the Shell Eco-marathon.

"The purpose of this competition is to build the most fuel efficient vehicle possible," said Smith. "To do that you need light weight, aerodynamic technology."

These Cougars plan to use unleaded gas as their fuel but diesel, solar and hydrogen will also be used by the 50 plus teams entered. The vehicles must travel the required 9.6 miles and average at least 15 miles per hour, but this race is not about speed. Last year's winner got an amazing 2,800 miles per gallon of fuel.

"We wish we knew their secrets," Marbach said. "We looked at other competitors, what other teams are doing to try to implement that to our own design."

Their engine is a 2.1 horse power motor. It's the kind you'd see on a small water pump. When finished, their car and driver, Avanthi, will sit behind the wheel for a total weight of around 200 pounds. The key they say to the best fuel mileage.

"Once we build this car, we'll be around the same weight, around the same size as the other winners, we don't know yet, we're still tweaking our engine," Marbach said.

James, Brandon and Avanthi are keeping a close guard on their design. They left for Fontana Speedway in California with their vehicle in tow.

The competition is Thursday and Friday. That's when these engineers of the future find out just how far they've come.

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