The Ecorunner team from Delft University are one of the contenders in the forthcoming Shell Eco-Marathon, participating in the prototype category using hydrogen as fuel. On-track, the competition is not about speed, it’s about energy efficiency. In both Prototype and Urban Concept categories, winners are the teams that manage to go further on the least amount of energy. A combination of factors determines the final result, working together is paramount in this race, aimed at showcasing solutions that will benefit a cleaner energy future.
In the last edition of 2016 the Ecorunners team from Delft University won third place, behind the winners H2politO – from the Politecnico Di Torino, from Turin in Italy, and runners-up ThaiGer-H2-Racing Stralsund from the Fachhochschule Stralsund in Germany. What had happened? The track was not as was anticipated: the Ecorunners-car-design was excellent for flat terrain, but steep track parts were not taken into account. A third place in the final results was as good as it could ever get… and work was begun on a re-design for this years competition: the Ecorunner VII
In the ecomarathon competition simply winning the race is not the only thing that counts, it’s about showing the possibilities there are in all aspects of design to achieve higher fuel efficiency. Nevertheless, from year to year, the team members are in it to win it, off course. When meeting some of the team members last week in their Delft-workplace that winning spirit was paramount. The team is enthusiastic and confident: a completely renewed design will concquer the track that is set out for this year’s Shell Eco Marathon in London, May 25-28.
finalizing the design
Throughout Europe student teams of young engineers, with help from more senior advisers, are now finalizing their designs, making them ready for assembly the coming weeks. The Delft Ecorunner team sure is eager to get that first place back this year. Why will they?
Paul Hulsman, Team Manager & Chief Aerodynamics, explains: “To get uphill draft some serious changes had to be made in the powertrain and that lead to several other changes too. Everything, every little detail, must be redesigned as soon as you start adjusting any part of the car. So everything is redesigned and rebuilt. Nevertheless we have great knowledge and data we can built on and with that and the energy of the team-members we are definitely able to come up with a winning car in London.’
He shows me the carbon body of the car. It looks somewhat like a fallen down, hollow tree, but it weighs only 9 kilo’s. Paul also shows me several car parts and holds them in the position were they will be placed, the picture starts to get more convinging already. ‘The fuel cell efficiency was enhanced from 56 to more than 65%, allowing to go to a 30-cell-pack instead of 40. And with that the weight of the design was also brought down considerably, amounting to the possibility of riding a very fuel efficient race of course.”
Weight is a focus throughout: Paul allows me to carefully hold one of the new carbon wheels: it weighs almost nothing! The Delft tyres that will be put on the wheels have the lowest rolling resistance among the competition, another aspect contributing to an outstanding performance.
And still on the weight: We won’t be seeing much of the driver since splendid aerodynamics demands completely packing away the driver inside the bullit shaped vehicle. But although unseen, the vehicles are still driven by human drivers. The Delft drivers have now started their diet (being advised by professional nutritionists, health is and will be first always) aiming to get just under the 50 kilo’s they may weigh according to the game-rules, leaving ample kilograms for their racing suit and helmet.
In this way fuel efficiency litteraly asks for reducing the human factor. It does not only concern the drivers themselves though, but also: the driving they do, since sensors make better drivers than humans. Smart technology in the car has gotten considerably smarter again this year, allowing sensors and software to assist the human driver to race a more perfect race as far as fuel supply is concerned.
When I ask Paul why hydrogen has to be the fuel, he tells me: ‘We want to show possibilities in engineering that can contribute to reducing energy use, so that polluting emissions can go down and the Paris Climate agreements can be met. On the one hand we focus on fuel efficiency, designing and building the most aerodynamic, light weight and smart car, on the other hand we make use of a clean fuel: hydrogen, which only has water as emission. It’s obvious that hydrogen will not be used in mainstream cars in the first years to come, if only because the infrastructure is not yet there. But hydrogen makes a very strong combination with renewables like wind- and solar energy: these renewables are not always available in the amounts we need, when there’s no wind or sun there is less production of energy. If we use the renewables for the production of hydrogen, we’re able to store clean energy and put it to use whenever it’s needed. In that way renewable energy and hydrogen production form a combination that provides a complete clean energy supply, and has the potential of becoming the number one energy solution in the not too distant future.’
Every specialist knowledge of the individual 25-30 team members is used to its extremity and on top of that all the team members have to work together to the best of their ability. Without this combination of specialist work and cooperation not one eco-marathon team would stand a chance. The steady work pace, being right on schedule, knowing what they are doing, makes the Ecorunners look solid, and definitely a strong contender in the prototype category.