Four-time champion Team Eco-Sprint from UiTM with their prototype vehicle. Pix courtesy of FTP Edelman
(File pix) Making science a fun family affair. Pix by O. C. Yeoh

THEY toiled over the project tasks for months on end. They missed out on free time, they missed out on weekend socialising, they even missed some classes and at times, they also missed out on sleep.

For the thousands of dedicated students who took part in the Shell Eco-marathon Asia 2017 that was held earlier this month in Singapore, those months of hard work, worries and sacrifices culminated in four days of last-minute touch-ups, final inspections, trial runs and moments of reckoning.

In the end, some emerged winners and celebrated their successful team effort. And for those who won, you could see the relief, the jubilance and exhilaration expressed on their faces. You couldn’t help but just share in their joy.

But those who did not win could still take comfort in knowing they had the experience of a lifetime and learned lessons that could never be taught in a classroom.

And to have made it to the competition was an achievement in itself.

To quote Shell Malaysia country chairman Datuk Iain Lo: “The real prize and victory is that of working as a team — raising funds, travelling together and being tested against rivals on and off track.”

There were 123 student teams from 20 countries who came, who challenged and who went home with knowledge and insight and new-found friends, if not trophies.

Reigning champions Team UiTM Eco-Sprint from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Shah Alam tasted victory for the fourth year running at the recent Shell Eco-marathon Asia 2017 competition.

The global event aims to inspire young people to become scientists and engineers of the future.

Held in Singapore for the first time, the Shell Eco-marathon Asia is an annual competition that challenges teams to design, build and drive the most energy-efficient cars.

After undergoing a stringent 190-point technical inspection and passing all the stations including dimensions, safety and brakes, the vehicles will then be allowed to do practice runs on the track to see how far they can go with the least amount of fuel, before the actual race.

As with last year in Manila, it was a sweet 1-2 victory for the Malaysian competitors in the category of prototype vehicle using hydrogen fuel cell.

UiTM Eco-Sprint’s Chantenk achieved a result of 359.4km/m3 while runners-up, University of Malaya Eco-Voyager’s Evora, managed an improved reading of 255.7km/m3 compared to the team’s previous reading at the competition last year.

Each team could choose to compete in one of two main categories — UrbanConcept and Prototype.

UrbanConcept vehicles resemble today’s road-going cars, albeit super-energy-efficient versions.

Prototype cars are futuristic, highly-aerodynamic vehicles that push the boundaries of what’s possible with energy-efficiency.

These categories are further divided into the three sub-categories of energy sources which are Internal Combustion Engine (ICE): gasoline, diesel, ethanol (biofuel), gas to liquid (GTL) fuel made from natural gas or CNG (compressed natural gas); hydrogen fuel cell; and battery electric power.

The other Malaysian teams were UiTM Eco-Planet; Team Monash UC and Eco-Chaser, both from Monash University; Genesis UTAR from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman; and Grune Welt from the Multimedia University Melaka Campus.

The Shell Eco-marathon is a competition that challenges students to design, build and drive the most energy efficient vehicle.

Hence, while most of the team members are mechanical and electrical engineers, the team managers will also try to recruit members from other faculties like those of business, marketing and design.

This is because the challenge involves not only building the cars from scratch, but also coming up with the most practical as well as attractive design and finding the sponsors to help in financing the project.

Lo said that the eco-marathon is the perfect platform for exposing youth to making decisions and choices, which are part of the learning process.

“For eight years now, the regions’ brightest minds have come together to design, build and test their energy-efficient vehicles at the Shell Eco-marathon,” he said.

“I’m especially proud of our young Malaysian engineers and innovators who have showcased their tenacity and perseverance alongside their technical expertise to address the global need for cleaner energy.

“Year after year, we see them improving not just their designs, but also their confidence — after all, the competition puts more than their engineering capabilities on display.

“It harnesses their soft skills such as team leadership, marketing and communications, and business acumen as well.

“They also learn to work within the eco-system, like outsourcing tasks where necessary.”

UiTM Eco-Sprint manager Amirah Athirah Rohazam, a final-year student of electrical/electronic manufacturing, said that the competition had tested her team beyond their technical abilities.

“We managed to better our time by using a monocoque for our chassis that made our vehicle some 6kg lighter than last year’s,” she said.

“We knew that the UM team was going to be a strong competitor, so we made sure to get our vehicle inspected as early as possible, to avoid the longer wait later as more teams send theirs for inspection.

“Earlier testing also meant getting to the track earlier and so having more time for practice runs.”

Amirah said she wished more teams would take part to benefit from the competition like hers did.

“This project also served to push our management skills, which are useful non-technical proficiencies in our field,” she said.

“The current economic conditions have made getting funding more difficult, so it means we have to come up with bolder proposals to attract the sponsors.”

Amirah added she would be keen as a role model to speak up on this topic during visits to schools to help promote STEM subjects to students.

“Engineering and technology are important for our nation’s development, so I also hope that competitions like this will at least popularise STEM subjects in Malaysian education institutions, especially among aspiring women engineers.”

Team UM Eco-Voyager manager S. Inthiran said that his team members who came from different engineering departments pooled their talents and expertise to produce “a more fuel-efficient automobile, integrating what we know in theory to life”.

He said the team managed to improve their timing this year by drilling holes in the vehicle shaft to reduce its weight.

Additionally, they picked a female driver with a small body frame to minimise the total weight of the vehicle during competition.

“There were initially a number of young women who had volunteered to be our driver but we chose Chin Ching Yi because of her long-term commitment to the team, as this was of utmost importance.”

Inthiran added that the Eco-Voyager managed to improve on its timing despite the more challenging circuit this year.

“Last year’s track was just a rectangle whereas this year’s featured more corners which meant more instances of speeding up and slowing down.

“However, we still did not manage to beat the Eco-Sprint. Well, hopefully we will next year.”

UiTM Eco-Planet was the only team participating in the UrbanConcept hydrogen category, but did not achieve a valid run.

Winning teams from each category take home US$3,000 (about RM13,000) for their school.

Overall, there was a nice spread of winners from different countries and regions, namely Indonesia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt and India (see the Infograph for the list of winners).

Several off-track awards were also presented to teams that excelled in other areas like innovation and communications, as well as a special award for the team that showed the best team spirit and grit.

(File pix) Team Panthera celebrate winning the award for spirit and perseverance. Pix courtesy of Mindy Tan for Shell

Panthera all-girls team wins for perseverance

THEY were the only fully-female team in a race dominated by male participants, competing in a discipline still mainly dominated by men.

Back home in India, they were not discouraged even when they faced rejection from sponsors who said they did not have confidence in an all-women team.

At this year’s Shell Eco-marathon Asia, although Team Panthera from the Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women did not end up in the race on track for not completing the mandatory technical inspection on time, they still won the off-track award for Perseverance and Spirit of the Event.

In an earlier interview with the Financial Express, team manager Manu Priya Vats was quoted as saying that “appropriate programmes can be introduced at a high school level to interest, excite and spread awareness among girls to take up mechanical engineering as their preferred career choice.”

She added that the establishment of technical schools that are only for women can also encourage the participation of girls in this field.

Making the future

THE Shell Eco-marathon has been running in Europe for more than three decades and in the United States since 2007.

It debuted in Asia in 2010 and Malaysia was the first country in this region to host the competition, which provides an arena for students to test vehicles they design and build themselves.

It aims to inspire young people to become scientists and engineers of the future.

In every region, similar rules apply in which all vehicles must pass a set of technical tests before they are allowed onto the competition circuit to see how far they can get on the least amount of fuel, and potentially achieve the highest mileage in the competition.

The eighth edition this year, which saw student teams from the Asia Pacific and the Middle East showcase their self-built vehicles, was held in conjunction with Shell’s Make the Future (MTF) Singapore festival of ideas and innovation.

Visitors were able to, through virtual reality and hands-on experiential zones, explore what is happening now and see what the future of energy might look like, from renewable energy to natural gas and low-carbon technologies.

This was the Asian installment of a global festival of ideas, focused on energy, which saw 22,000 visitors, including schoolchildren, who were brought by their teachers.

There were three interactive zones, namely Our Energy Future, On the Move and Live, Work, Play.

Under a Bright Ideas Challenge, secondary school students competed to design energy-efficient solutions for future cities.

The challenge was won by a team from Greenview Secondary School whose idea was a city where food waste was converted into energy in the absence of oxygen through micro-organisms.

Also featured was an immersive experience where a local playback theatre troupe challenged delegates to think both critically and creatively of solutions to make a cleaner energy future for Asia.

The theatrical performance was inspired by the pilot Imagine the Future Scenarios Competition, in which the winning student team from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University presented two contrasting scenarios of how people in Asia would live, work and play in 2050.

A Powering Progress Together forum was attended by thought leaders, young talents and representatives from business, government and civil society.

This year’s MTF took on an additional element of excitement with the inaugural Drivers’ World Championship (DWC) Asia, an exciting race format in which four out of 12 shortlisted teams from the UrbanConcept category raced head-to-head to see who would be the fastest while running on limited fuel.

Teams were given a fixed amount of energy, based on their mileage challenge performance, to complete the distance of the final race.

The De La Salle University team from the Philippines, which won the race, will be joined by two runners-up teams from Indonesia to represent Asia in the face-off against the best three teams from both the Americas and Europe.

The Grand Final champion will gain a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the home of Scuderia Ferrari in Italy.


On-Track Awards:

Prototype ICE — Thailand Sakonnakhon Technical College (Thailand)

Prototype Battery Electric — Guangzhou College of South China University of Technology (China)

Prototype Hydrogen Fuel Cell — Universiti Teknologi Mara (Malaysia)

UrbanConcept ICE — Universitas Indonesia (Indonesia)

UrbanConcept Battery Electric — Lac Hong University (Vietnam)

Drivers’ World Championship Asia

Winner — De La Salle University (Philippines)

1st runner-up — Sebelas Maret University (Indonesia)

2nd runner-up — Institut Teknologi Sepuluh Nopember (Indonesia)

Off-Track Awards:

Communications — National University of Sciences and Technology (Pakistan)

Technical Innovation — Girton Grammar School (Australia)

UrbanConcept Vehicle Design — University of Canterbury (New Zealand)

Prototype Vehicle Design — Tongji University (China)

Safety — Ain Shams University (Egypt)

Perseverance and Spirit of the Event — Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women (India)

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