April 22, 2011 by Helen Nowotnik
Seniors from Drexel’s College of Engineering received first place honors in the solar car prototype category at the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas competition held in Houston, Texas, April 14-15. The team consisted of senior mechanical engineering majors David Ho, Vincent Tancredi, Shuiqiang Lin, John Toal, Ishin Ueyama, Chun Yao Ker, and senior electrical engineering majors Asaf Erlich, Alexey Leontyev, Conjee Yeung, Mingming Liu and Andrey Shum.
The Shell Eco-Marathon, which is held annually by the Shell Oil Company, is a competition for college and high school students to build a highly efficient vehicle.
The competition is divided into two major categories: urban concept vehicle and prototype vehicle. Those categories are then divided into subcategories depending on the energy the vehicle uses — solar, gasoline, bio fuel, diesel, electric or hydrogen fuel cell.
“In order to make a successful run you had to produce more power than you consumed,” Erlich, team captain for the electrical engineering team, said.
Drexel’s “The Green Dragon” was one of five vehicles in the solar car prototype category to make a successful run. The prototype car ran 90 miles per kilowatt hour, which is equivalent to 3,033 miles per gallon on the six-mile-long course.
The Green Dragon weighed 175 pounds and cost about $3,000 to $4,000. According to Erlich, it was paid for mostly out of pocket with a few donations.
This was the first year Drexel competed in the Shell Eco-Marathon, and therefore the team could not make adjustments or improvements based on critiques from the previous year, as other teams did. In total, 69 teams competed in this year’s Marathon.
The Green Dragon beat out many schools, including Purdue University’s solar prototype car. Students at Purdue began making their first solar car in 1991 and won in the 2008 Shell Eco-Marathon Solar Division.
“I think no one expected us to win. Not even us. Until the end,” Erlich said.
When the team arrived in Texas, they faced a few obstacles, including cloudy weather that was adverse for a solar car. After barely meeting the height and width requirements on Saturday, the team tried to have a run on the course, but their joule meter wasn’t functioning; however, after some work on the circuits, the car was ready for the Sunday morning competition.
“The weather was on our side … on that Sunday, everything just sort of fell into place,” Ho said.
Adam Fontecchio, associate dean for undergraduate affairs in the College of Engineering, and Bradley Layton, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, advised the students.
“We want to give a lot of credit to Dr. Fontecchio. He really helped us a lot. Especially getting funding for transportation because honestly, he really believed in us and that’s why he went through all this trouble,” Ho said.
The Drexel team was mentioned on Wire.com and NBC News, and were featured in an article on Nationalgeographic.com.