IN THE future, cars are expected to be energy-efficient, economical, technologically advanced and more safe.
Although this target may seem ambitious, it was evident that we are a step closer to achieving this at the recent Shell Eco-Marathon Asia in Singapore.
The annual event held at Changi Exhibition Centre saw more than 120 teams from 18 Asian countries putting their specially designed, ultra energy-efficient vehicles to the test.
Shell Malaysia chairman Iain Lo said he was pleased to see seven teams from Malaysia competing in this year’s race. He also praised them for their diversity and teamwork.
“There are a lot of challenges the students need to address to build a car from scratch.
“A big chunk of it comes from good engineering skills, but regardless of how well they can build a car, they will not have a race-worthy vehicle if they had no money to fund their project.
“It’s great that some of our teams sought the help of their friends majoring in Mass Communication and Psychology to get sponsors to fund their projects, while the engineering students focused their attention on the vehicles,” he said.
As one of the largest oil and gas and energy producers in the world, Shell is concerned about the world’s growing population and rising demand for energy, as many researchers and studies say it is not sustainable unless major changes are done.
Shell Eco-Marathon general manager Norman Koch said the event was a platform for young minds from all over the world to showcase their ingenuity as well as ideas and hopes for the future.
“Every idea and concept at this event is theirs. We (Shell) do not use this platform as an opportunity to copy or claim ownership of their ideas.
“In fact, our team advises the students on how they can improve their ideas and even how to copyright and market them,” said Koch, adding that many representatives of the automotive industry would be present throughout the four-day event, making it possible that students would be offered jobs.
There were several racing categories to choose from, which were divided into two major vehicle categories – Prototype and Urban Concept.
Prototype refers to futuristic, streamlined vehicles with three or four wheels. The primary design consideration is to reduce resistance and maximise efficiency.
Meanwhile, Urban Concept vehicles have a more conventional design, with four wheels, proper doors, steering wheel and even windshield wipers.
Once the students had chosen their preferred category, they can then select the energy source they want to use to power their vehicles. The options are internal combustion (gasoline/diesel/ethanol), hydrogen or battery-powered.
The seven teams from Malaysia with a total of 115 students were from Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) who competed in the Prototype vehicle category (battery-powered); Universiti Malaya (Prototype, hydrogen); Multimedia University Malaysia (Prototype, battery); Monash University (first team: Prototype, petrol; second team: Urban Concept, hydrogen), Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Prototype, battery) and Universiti Teknologi Mara (Urban Concept, hydrogen).
It was UMP’s first time competing in the event and according to team leader Devin Babu, he and his team slogged for eight months to build their vehicle and make it race-worthy.
Devin said, “It was really tough, because we had to use our spare time to build this vehicle. We sacrificed a lot to focus on this car.
“Shell imposes a strict 190-point technical inspection before any vehicle is allowed to make runs on the 1.19km purpose-built track.
“Our team’s minimum target here was to just pass the inspection by Shell, anything beyond that was a bonus.
“We sympathise with some of the teams who had been working on their vehicles for up to a year, only to fail at the inspection stage despite making numerous last-minute changes to meet the necessary requirements.”
The winning teams in their respective vehicle and energy source category received US$3,000 (RM11,700).
Teams also had a chance to win off-track awards such as Best Communication, Technical Innovation, Vehicle Design and Safety.
Throughout the event, the paddocks were a hive of activity day and night as students scrambled to set up their vehicles upon arrival, make changes to pass the inspections and conduct various tests on their vehicles.
Shell also organised Make The Future Singapore, a free-access festival for schoolchildren and the public, featuring games and activities that showed how alternative forms of energy could be used to power all sorts of products.
Meanwhile, a forum called Powering Progress Together was also held, which focused on current and future energy challenges and opportunities in Asia.
Government officials, the business community and the public joined bright minds from universities in open conversations to try and solve the growing demand for energy while reducing carbon footprint.
Koch said he was happy that the programmes and race organised by Shell had left a positive impact on the minds of people young and old to adopt a greener future.
“The main event is of course the Shell Eco-Marathon, but all the other activities taking place at the same time do a lot to spread the message of being environmentally-conscious while driving home the message of adopting cleaner alternative fuel sources,” he said.