These brainiacs from the University of Houston are preparing for what you might call the mechanical engineering super bowl. It's called the Shell Eco-marathon, and every year since 1939 it has challenged engineering students to come up with a vehicle that uses as little fuel as possible.
"In its very simplest form, it is how far you can make a vehicle go on an equivalent of a gallon of gasoline," explained Marvin Odom, President of Shell Oil Company. "But in its more complicated form, what it is, is, it takes these students and it stretches their innovation their ability to use technology to the very limits."
More than 70 years later, some teams still use gasoline. But these guys are using hydrogen. Not only will their car travel far on less fuel, their fuel source is also completely green. It does not pollute the environment.
Team leader Adam Bordelon said, "We have hydrogen gas. It's in the air. H2o is water. Most people know that. Well, we can separate the oxygen and the hydrogen and store that hydrogen in a tank."
They named the team accordingly. It's called Team Element One.
"Because hydrogen is the first element on the periodic table and this is a hydrogen-powered car," Bordelon said.
When you see the car you have to understand they've entered the prototype side of the competition, and that means the cars are meant to demonstrate innovation not practicality for human travel. That's partly why David Bockoven is the team's driver.
"At first it was because I was the shortest and the lightest weight," he said. "I'm very excited. There's a lot of switches we've got to make sure we don't overload the motor."
Last year's Eco-marathon was in California. This year, for the first time, it is in Houston at Discovery Green Park.
Along with another team from the University of Houston, they'll face competition from North and South America and even India, so they're hoping the home court advantage will pay off.
"We want to be one of the top competitors there," Bockoven said.
There are points given for eco-friendliness, safety, and a category these guys hope to win – "perseverance in the face of adversity." But let me tell you, there should be points for just sitting down in the car without breaking it. It is a little tricky to get into this car, but it's very neat. The car only weighs as much as a regular car tire. It goes about 15 to 20 miles per hour and, get this, it gets 2,500 miles to the gallon. After two semesters of hard work, the Chinese New Year could have stopped this car from running -- literally.
"Our fuel cell we decided to purchase was manufactured in China. They had their New Year and took a week off work. Their company was pretty far behind on their orders," Bordelon explained. "So we received a pretty unexpected delay getting the fuel cell."
The Shell Eco-marathon is March 26 - 29 at Discovery Green. We have a special preview of the event. It airs Sunday at 10:35pm on ABC13.