Students Create Eco-Friendly Vehicles

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Mechanical engineering students in the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering are facing the age-old question: How far can they go? In this case, actual distance and miles per gallon are the measurements. For a mechanical engineering design class, students participate in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas, where they compete to design and build vehicles that travel the farthest with the best fuel efficiency. They use a one person, highly aerodynamic design. “It was by far the most beneficial project that I have ever been involved with,” said Andrew Braum, a 2009 graduate in mechanical engineering. “The students manage the whole process, from the concept to the physical product that they use in the competition,” said Matthew Siniawski, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “They gain valuable hands-on experience, learning engineering by conceptualizing, designing and producing their vehicles. With this competition, they are exposed to working with environmentally friendly practices, which is extremely important in our world today.” They also work closely with many industrial sponsors who provide components, assist with fabrication and financially contribute to the project. In 2008, LMU entered its first vehicle and placed 15th out of 29 schools, with a fuel efficiency of 313.4 miles per gallon. In 2009, LMU students entered two vehicles, Gen 2 and Gen 3, and among the 43 participating teams, Gen 3 placed ninth with 858.4 mpg and Gen 2 placed 15th with 531.1 mpg. For 2009, students reduced the weight of the vehicle to less than 100 pounds and significantly increased its overall fuel efficiency. “In terms of mechanical engineering, we did the best we could, but there are other elements of the competition we can still improve on,” Braum said. Design is completed and fabrication is well underway for the Gen 4 vehicle to be used in the 2010 Shell Eco-marathon, set for March 26-28 in Houston. “The students are really excited and made some substantial design changes for this new vehicle. Their goal is to top 1,557 mpg,” said Siniawski. In addition, students have formed the Eco Motor Sports Club at LMU, which is open to students of any major. “This club is important because it invites students from other areas of the university besides science and engineering to contribute ideas that will make our vehicles stronger and even more competitive,” said Siniawski. The club has modified and plans to re-enter the 2009 Gen 3 vehicle.