Research & Innovation

Senior Design Team Competes in Shell Eco-marathon

A Mechanical Engineering Stevens Senior Design team placed 15th in the Prototype, Battery Electric category of the 2012 Shell Eco-marathon America, which challenges teams from high schools and colleges teams from North and South America to design, build and test energy efficient vehicles.

At the annual competition at Shell’s headquarters in Houston, Texas from March 28 to April 1, Dave Bairamian, Nick Catania, Chris Coppola, Nick Gadaleta, Steve Rawson and Isaac Spingarn entered their car, Sweet Adeline, in the Prototype, Battery Electric category, which focuses on aerodynamics lightweight for extreme efficiency. On two separate runs, drivers Bairamian and Spingarn lapped an urban track in downtown Houston, competing against other teams to see whose plug-in electric and battery powered car could complete ten laps using the least amount of energy. Their car was on display at today's Stevens Innovation Expo.

The team, who was advised by Mechanical Engineering Industry Professor Jan Nazalewicz and who benefited from generous funding from donor and Stevens alumnus Lawrence Carter ’63, finished in 15th place out of a field of 21 vehicles in the category. Its best result was 2,325 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) or 110 kilometers per kilowatt-hour (km/kWh).

“The competition was great,” Catania said. “We loved seeing the innovative designs teams from all over the country came up with.”

The seniors – who had little experience with metal work or welding – designed their 66 kilo car with an internal frame made of 17 pounds of bamboo and a carbon fiber shell which the team molded by hand. They chose bamboo because it is quite strong and capable of holding up under stress, despite its light weight. They also increased the bamboo’s strength by heating it to 200 degrees, drawing out its moisture.

“Most of the efficiency comes from the aerodynamic body shape and lightweight frame,” said Bairamian.

The students thought they could have performed better, but struggled with time constraints.

“Completing the project on time was a challenge, due to the early competition date,” said Coppola. “There was a huge learning curve. Actually fabricating the car was more difficult than simply designing it on paper. We struggled to learn the many new manufacturing processes that we encountered, while finding a suitable place to construct our vehicle.”

They also thought inexperience with regards to the competition, compared to the other teams, was a setback that effected their ultimate performance and placement. For example, they felt they underestimated the full level competition, which caused them to over-engineer their car.

“During Technical Inspection in Houston we realized our vehicle could withstand a lot more force than Shell was testing for,” said Spingarn. “We focused on making it strong, but that didn’t prove to be as important as we thought. So while our car performed pretty much as we expected it to, as first year participants we were behind the teams who had competed in previous years and had a better understanding of the particularities of the competition guidelines.”

The team hopes to inspire upcoming Senior Design students to enter the competition and improve on their performance, and even expressed interest in mentoring future Stevens Eco-marathon teams.

“We hope we can pass on the knowledge we learned, so future teams can build even better cars,” said Gadaleta.

View video about the project, including footage directly from the driver’s camera, here.